We take a look at some of the treatments that can reduce work-related stress in your business, from resilience training to professional mentoring programmes.
Everyone who has ever had a job will, at some point, have felt the pressure of work-related stress. In the short-term, that stress can actually have a positive impact on how we perform at work. The stress hormones that are released increase the heart rate and blood pressure, leading to improved alertness, energy and memory. However, over the longer-term, high levels of stress can be chronic and overwhelming, and that’s when it can be very damaging to our physical and mental health.
As an employer or line manager, you have a legal duty to protect your employees from stress at work by conducting a risk assessment and acting on your findings. But while that may help to reduce the occurrence of stress in the first instance, it doesn’t treat it.
7 Treatments for Work-Related Stress
In part 7 of our guide to Managing Business Stress, we’re going to take a look at the different treatments that can help to reduce work-related stress in your business.
Keeping a stress diary
One tried and tested way to treat work-related stress is for employees to keep a stress diary. The idea behind a stress diary is to regularly record the anxious moments that an employee experiences throughout the day so they can pinpoint the causes of stress and how they react to them.
Employees should record the following information:
- The date and time of a stressful event
- The stressful event they experienced
- The stress symptoms they felt and how stressed they felt on a scale of 1-10
- The fundamental cause of the stress
- How they reacted to the stressor and whether it made things worse
Once an employee has kept a stress diary for a few weeks, they can then analyse it and take action. To do that, they should:
- Highlight the most frequent stressors in the diary and those that led to the strongest reaction
- Analyse the underlying causes of those stressors and look at how they handled the events
- List the situations that caused the most stress and think about how they can be avoided
- If they cannot be avoided, employees should consider how they can prepare for stressful situations and manage them more effectively in the future
Resilience is the ability to take some knocks and still work productively and to a high level, and the best thing about resilience is that it’s a skill that can be learned. In modern workplaces that are characterised by staff cutbacks, deadlines, long working hours and organisational change, an employee’s ability to cope with and even thrive under stress plays a big part in their success. That’s where resilience training comes in.
Resilience training teaches employees, managers and business leaders practical strategies and tools to bolster their mental, emotional and physical resilience in the workplace. However, as well as a reduction in work-related stress, resilience is also associated with greater job satisfaction, work happiness, organisational commitment and employee engagement. That’s why resilience is a trait that’s so highly sought after by employers.
If you have problems with work-related stress in your business, then introducing a mentoring programme could be at least part of the solution. Professional mentoring programmes have been found to help employees who are at risk of work-related stress and burnout develop more confidence and feel more engaged in their organisation. But it’s not just the mentees who benefit.
According to a study into the benefits of formal mentoring programmes, senior workers tend not to share things with their colleagues due to the negative stigma that is often associated with work-related stress, anxiety and depression. By becoming a mentor, senior workers learn to understand that the problems they are facing are normal, which helps to reduce the anxiety and stress that they associate with them.
Importantly, the benefits of a mentoring programme are not felt immediately. It is only once a trusting relationship between the mentor and mentee has developed that the two-way sharing becomes easier. This additional support system allows both parties to discuss the sensitive problems they are facing without having to worry about the judgement of line managers or their colleagues.
For many employees, the workday is spent with multiple deadlines, distractions, messaging apps and emails all competing for their attention at the same time. That can make their quality of work suffer and cause them to feel stressed. Mindfulness is the ability to focus purposefully on a single activity without distraction. That improves their levels of concentration and, when practised daily, can boost the areas of the brain that are associated with attention regulation.
As well as improving focus and concentration, a study has found that mindfulness-based therapies are effective at reducing the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. In recent years, many companies have started teaching mindfulness in the office for exactly that reason. As well as formal training, there are also mindfulness apps and exercises such as mindful walking that can help to reduce levels of work-related stress.
Cognitive behavioural training
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be a relatively quick and effective way to reduce stress in the workplace. It helps employees to reverse the negative thought processes that trigger stress reactions and can be delivered through face-to-face sessions, computer-based courses and online therapy packages.
Employees typically undergo between 8 and 20 sessions for around six months, with CBT commonly used to reduce employee stress levels, boost performance and facilitate an earlier return to work for employees who have been absent due to stress.
Despite being a widely recognised method of treating work-related stress, CBT is still underused due to a lack of practising therapists and the stigma associated with mental health problems. Employees can also have concerns about confidentiality. However, the treatment is provided independently, so it should be highlighted to employees that the details of CBT sessions are not reported back to their employers.
In today’s digital world, many workers feel the pressure to be ‘always on’. That means they check their emails after they have left work and make themselves available 24 hours a day. In some workplaces, this is actively encouraged, despite the negative consequences it has on burnout, work-life balance and work-related stress.
By making it a rule not to check emails from home in the evening and even preventing access after a certain time, employers can establish clear boundaries that help to reduce the work-life conflict and the stress that comes with it.
To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, it’s also important that employees understand the importance of having time to recharge and return to their pre-stress levels of functioning. To do that, all paid leave should be taken and not allowed to go to waste and employees should be encouraged to take regular short breaks from their desks.
Work-related stress is related to many physical and mental health conditions, so employees should be encouraged to take advantage of the private health cover included in their benefits package or to make regular appointments with their GP.
That can help to rule out any other conditions that could be contributing to an employee’s symptoms. A doctor will also be able to work with the employee to come up with other strategies to reduce the symptoms of stress, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol and eating a more balanced diet.
Read part 8 of our guide to Managing Business Stress – Building Resilience to Work-Related Stress.