5 ways to prevent stress in the workplace

You might be thinking: “isn’t it normal to be stressed at work?”

The answer is yes… and no.

Believe it or not, some types of stress are actually helpful in propelling us forward. Our brains create stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to alert us when we’re in danger. But if you work in an office environment, you’re never really putting your life at risk (unless your health and safety checks aren’t up to scratch!).

Scientists at the University of San Fransisco did a study in 2013 to see whether stress in the workplace can be good for you. The results indicated that while chronic stress is bad, acute stress can be helpful.

It can push employees further and can help them achieve better performance. Take deadlines, for example. They do make us lose our cool from time to time, but without a deadline, this article might still be sitting in a notes app on a laptop somewhere in years to come.

So, stress isn’t always bad. It’s there for a reason. But the fact that only 59% of British adults in employment were suffering from workplace stresses in 2018, compared to 79% in 2020, shows that it’s on the rise.

Why should you be concerned about stress in the new world of work?

Work-related stress is hurting your business.

Between 2019 and 2020, 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety.

The same survey showed that 828,000 people were suffering from new or long-withstanding work-related stress, depression, or anxiety.

5 reasons to make sure you’re creating a low-stress environment at work:

  1. Less sick days – In 2019/20 stress, depression, or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.

  2. Better working relationships and collaboration – when you’re happier and healthier, you’re more creative. You feel better about yourself and you’re likely to be more productive.

  3. Better employee retention – at the risk of stating the obvious, if you want to keep your staff on board, then it helps to be working in a friendly, calm, and supportive environment.

  4. A strong company culture – this links back to creativity. The less stressed you are, the more likely you’ll want (and have the time) to ‘play’, which can be conducive to more engaged and creative problem-solving.

  5. Better company reputation – Put together a strong company culture, fewer sick days, and high retention rates and you’re on to a winner! Remember, good news travels fast so keep your staff happy and your customers and clients will be too.

5 ways to help your staff through stressful times:

1. Flexibility & Trust

Everyone has different rhythms and flows when it comes to work. If you’re flexible and trust your employees to work in a way that suits them and their workload, they’re going to feel more at ease and less stressed. Encourage them to work at their own pace.

Questions to ask when trying to motivate your gang:

What team members work well with targets?

Who works best when they’re given a deadline?

Are there any members of staff that work better when they’re on more flexible hours?

We will inevitably all feel stress, we’re not robots. The key here is to think about how to implement the good stress and use it to your team’s advantage.

When you’re busy it’s easy to become out of touch with your teams’ responsibilities on an individual level. But it’s important to listen to them. Have a 1:1 chat and get to know their needs.

Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work (Forbes.) Trusting them and making their environment more collaborative and organic could pay off big time.

2. Recognition & Feedback

A lack of job satisfaction and purpose can cause stress, so recognition is important for showing an employee that you value them. According to Forbes, 89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes.

Without feedback, your team won’t know whether they’re going in the right direction or not. Making your employees feel valued will lead to better motivation. They’ll know that the work they’re doing matters and that they’re doing it well.

As we said in our last point, motivation can come from all sorts of places, depending on the person. Once you’ve spent enough time with your team, working out what they want from their roles and what their individual strengths are, you should be able to work out how to effectively recognise them for the good work they’re doing.

You might have a conversation with your whole team to ask what they think would work best. How do they want to be rewarded? This could be anything from making a donation to charity in their name, vouchers for a favourite shop, bonuses for reaching certain targets, or even just a simple shout-out on the team Slack channel.

3. Respect

According to Forbes, the average employee is distracted up to 2.1 hours a day! Respecting your employees’ need to not be distracted and have some ‘focus time’ is imperative in creating a low-stress environment. At OnHand, we have a selection of statuses on Slack to let the team know where we are and when we’re available.

It allows us to let our colleagues and managers know that we probably won’t be replying to messages immediately. Working remotely, it can be really hard to give ourselves permission to not be at everyone’s beck and call all the time, so just a simple trick like setting a certain status can actually help a lot in keeping us disciplined and focused. When we’re less stressed and more focused, we get more done. Happy days.

4. Well-being

Tell your team that they matter because they do. We can’t say this enough. If you don’t make it obvious to your team that they need to be putting their own well-being before deadlines and targets, then you risk them burning out from stress. They won’t do it unless the culture of the company is built on the well-being of its employees.

In a survey by Mind, the mental health charity, more than one in five people (21%) admitted that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them. That number is far too big and scary and we should all be doing our best to prevent this from happening.

It can be really daunting to know where to start when it comes to a well-being program. We know because we’ve been there. Accept that you’re probably not going to get it 100% correct the first time and be willing to keep trying.

You could start by implementing mental health days. At OnHand, we consider them to be essentially just sick days, but for mental health rather than physical. Regardless of what the cause is, if an employee feels they can’t come to work because of their mental health then they just have to let their manager know. No questions asked.

Trust has a big part to play here. Trusting your employees to use mental health and sick days only when they feel it’s really necessary is key to them respecting the policy.

In an ideal world, mental health days and sick days would both be the same thing, but for now, we differentiate the two because mental health isn’t yet given quite the same value as physical health. But if more businesses implement mental health days we’ll all be getting closer to recognising them as equally important.

If you want more than that, check out our Blue Monday blog post and have a look at our well-being menu for inspo.

5. Communication & Clarity

You might have noticed that this (along with trust) feeds into everything we’ve just talked about.

Making things clear to your employees is bound to put their minds at ease. Granted you won’t always be able to tell them everything all the time, but being as transparent as possible helps to keep them from worrying about things unnecessarily.

Be clear about job descriptions, job titles, pay raises, bonuses, what your people need to do, when they need to have it done by, what their targets are, etc. There needs to be a top-down approach. Check in with your teams to make sure they understand what’s going on, or at least make it clear that you’re always there if they have any questions.

Reminding your team what the overall goals and objectives of your business are can help in reducing stress – if you do it right, you can use it to help them keep their eye on the prize and prevent them from worrying about tiny details that don’t matter.

Listening is more important than talking when it comes to communication. Why not have a team session on the “Big Picture”. Listen to suggestions from the team and really get them involved. Trust them to take the lead on some things.

Trust and clarity are the key elements in making sure your work environment is a low-stress zone.

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