We explore the work-related stress management techniques that can reduce the stress levels of employees and help to create happier and more productive teams.
If your employees or teams are showing signs of work-related stress, it’s important not to brush it under the carpet. You have a legal duty to look after the health and wellbeing of your employees, and that includes identifying the causes of stress and implementing realistic and workable ways to tackle them.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced Management Standards and an accompanying step-by-step workbook. They explain what you can do as an employer to comply with the law and tackle work-related stress. However, there are also lots of other approaches you can take.
Here in part 4 of our guide to Managing Business Stress, we will explore the work-related stress management techniques that can reduce the stress levels of your employees and create happier and more productive teams.
- Promote self-help
One of the most important things you can do is to empower your employees to recognise the signs of stress and learn more about its causes. By engaging your staff in the realities and effects of stress, they’re far more likely to recognise when they are feeling stressed and seek help. The HSE offers a stress management indicator tool that may help employees to think about their stress levels at work.
You should also provide clear tools that your teams can use to reduce their own stress levels. For example, you could create a Wellness Action Plan with staff. A Wellness Action Plan is an easy and practical way to help you support the mental health of your team members.
As a line manager, creating a Wellness Action Plan can help you:
- Structure and start conversations about mental health with your employees
- Better understand the needs and experiences of your teams
- Identify and consider adjustments that you could make
- Show new starters that their wellbeing is a priority
- Make sure employees returning to work after a stress-related absence are supported
You can also introduce employees to some of the many different coping techniques that they can use to control their own stress levels. The guides from the Stress Management Society are a good place to start.
- Reflect on your managerial style
How people are treated and managed on a day-to-day basis is central to their wellbeing and how motivated and engaged they feel. A good approach is to proactively ask staff what support they need from you. You can then tailor your managerial style to suit the needs of each team member.
Steps that you can take include:
- Being supportive, approachable and responsive and being available for work-related conversations
- Asking staff how they are and how they feel their work is going as part of your regular catch-ups
- Encouraging positive relationships with colleagues and providing mediation where necessary
- Monitoring the workload of staff and encouraging healthy working hours
- Providing your team with meaningful work and opportunities for personal development
- Inviting feedback on your management and communication style and being aware of how you come across to others
- Balance their workload
According to research by the HSE, an unmanageable workload is the biggest cause of work-related stress. Working long hours without a break to rest and recharge will wear down and exhaust even the most committed employees. To make your employees’ workload more manageable, you should:
- Give employees as much control over their tasks as possible
- Make sure their workload is suited to their abilities and provide them with the resources they need
- Schedule regular catch-ups to check that their job demands are reasonable and manageable deadlines are in place
- Have reasonable working hours and make sure staff have enough time to rest between their shifts
- Allow flexible hours and remote working
If there’s one positive that has come from the pandemic, it’s a greater awareness of the benefits of flexible working. Flexible working arrangements that increase worker control have been shown to improve both employee wellbeing and benefit mental health.
One American study found that working from home or co-working spaces can reduce burnout, stress and psychological distress, while further research found that remote working can increase employee wellbeing and job satisfaction.
There are several reasons for this. The stress of commuting can put a significant strain on employees, particularly those who juggle a family life alongside a career. The effects are felt most strongly by those with longer commutes (over 60 minutes each way). Research has found that those with a long commute are 33% more likely to suffer from depression, 40% more likely to have financial worries, and 12% more likely to report issues due to work-related stress.
Giving workers flexibility about their start and end times and allowing them to work remotely at least some of the time can boost office morale and help to improve work-life balance. However, be sure to consult each worker individually about their preferences rather than adopting a blanket approach. As an example, some younger workers (those aged 21-30) prefer to be in the office full-time.
- Improve relationships between colleagues
Work-related stress levels can increase when employees don’t get along with or trust the people they’re working with on a daily basis. Bad relationships with colleagues can lead to a range of negative emotions such as distrust, jealousy and anxiety that can ultimately lead to stress.
Employees are hired for their skills and experience and not necessarily their complementary personalities, and that can turn the workplace into a battleground. However, as a manager, there are things you can do to help to build better relationships within your teams and reduce work-related stress.
- Create a culture of honesty and openness and approach conflict head-on
Conflict will arise between team members from time to time. By making employees feel comfortable being open and honest and handling any issues quickly, professionally, and transparently, conflict can be resolved effectively.
- Allow employees to give and receive feedback
Giving employees an outlet to exchange feedback is an effective way to gather information from your teams and boost accountability, reliability, and trust.
- Encourage group projects and team events
Working together on a group project is a great way to break down the misplaced perceptions that colleagues have about one another and to develop a newfound appreciation of their strengths.
- Set clear goals
Multitasking is a myth. Despite what some people might think, humans are not efficient parallel processors. When multitasking it typically takes double the amount of time to do a task, leads to twice as many mistakes, and causes an increase in work-related pressure and stress.
Instead, you should set clear, one-at-a-time task prioritisation for deliverables with milestones that don’t overlap. Clear goal setting is a great stress reliever, allowing employees to focus their attention on a single project while drowning out any unwanted noise and doubts.
- Encourage wellbeing practices
Understanding and prioritising activities that promote wellbeing for yourself and your team can have a profound impact on stress. Wellbeing practices that are simple to implement but also very effective include:
- Offering personal development tools such as mindfulness and resilience training
- Introducing healthy foods into the workplace
- Making sure employees take regular breaks
- Encouraging walking meetings
- Building buffer time into your employees’ calendars
One of the key benefits of boosting wellness is that, just like stress, wellness can be contagious. According to research by Gallup, individual team members who report experiencing wellbeing are 20% more likely to have other team members who also feel like they’re thriving six months later.
Engage With Your Staff About Work-Related Stress
Whatever work-related stress management techniques you choose to adopt, the simple act of engaging with your team about the effects of stress and what you are doing to combat it can have a positive impact on your workforce.
Employees should not have to sacrifice their health or happiness for their careers. By taking these simple steps, you’ll improve their lives and create a less stressful workplace for everyone, including yourself.
Read part 5 of our guide to Managing Business Stress – How to Support Co-Workers Suffering From Stress.