The importance of managing stress in the workplace

We all suffer from bouts of worry, stress and anxiety but have you ever experienced such intense stress at work that your physical or mental health has suffered as a result? Perhaps you have witnessed other people at work suffer breakdowns or illnesses that have been related to stress, or seen conflict situations escalate because stress was poorly managed?

While a little stress is a good thing, as it can act as a motivator for us to solve problems and overcome obstacles, too much stress in the workplace can be crippling. Our work and health can suffer as a result of high levels of stress, with a knock-on effect for every aspect of our lives including personal relationships.

National Stress Awareness Month takes place in America throughout the whole of April. The event was established in 1992 with the aim of raising awareness of the real health problems stress can create and how we can help overcome such difficulties.

Here at DIB Development, we think stress management is something that we should be aware of and raising awareness of on a daily basis, not just for one month of the year.

Why the Royal Free Hospital chose to manage stress and how its’ employees benefitted

The Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust employs 4,000 people and looks after 700,000 patients a year from all over the world. In a fast paced, high stakes environment like the NHS frontline, stress is inevitable. The trust recognised the need to effectively manage stress at its teaching hospital. Working with Occupational Health Psychology Service, the Trust established best practice guidance and put in place a framework that allowed colleagues to access therapy, consultancy, coaching, training, mediation and organisational development services.

Benefits seen from the Royal Free Hospital case study included increased employee commitment and wellbeing, with individuals reporting feeling valued and that their organisation is working on their behalf. The framework helped team leaders to understand stress and then help their team members to think about the components of the job that are really pressurising them, making stress more manageable and providing a starting point for interventions. It also set out team leader competencies for managing stress, which were seen as valuable as they showed how people can really change their behaviour to become more effective.

What can you do to manage stress in your team?

The NHS case study shows, by dedicating some time and resources to developing stress management processes in your organisation, we can help people to recognise when and why stress occurs, take ownership of tackling it, and achieve great outcomes for everyone.

Here we explore some of the principle signs of stress at work and how to help manage it efficiently.

Signs a person is over-stressed at work

Have you ever worried about work outside of work? Perhaps you have lost sleep because you are worried about work-related issues? Constantly fretting about work when we’re in non-working environments is a sign that an individual is overly worried and stressed about their work.

There are also a number of physical symptoms an individual often exerts when they are overly stressed.

In her book titled ‘The Fear-Free Organisation: Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform Your Business Culture’, Joan Kingsley, a consultant clinical and organisational therapist who has spent 25 years researching workplace psychology and who co-authored the book, maps out a number of signs that an individual is too stressed-out at work.

Talking to The Independent, Joan Kingsley says that asides from fretting over things outside of work, the signs a person is over stressed include:

.           Feeling panicky

.           Inability to focus

.           Having feelings they are unable to cope

.           Difficulty staying in the moment

.           Feeling overwhelmed

.           Butterflies in the stomach

.           Racing heartbeat

.           A dry mouth

The effects of high levels of stress at work

Stress can be debilitating and can have a profoundly negative effect on our performance at work. Being under intense and prolonged stress can lead to poor decision-making, and an increase in errors leading to clients complaints, which has a detrimental knock-on effect as it creates more stress.

Too much stress in the workplace can also lead to increased sickness and absence. According to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) ‘Work related Stress, Anxiety and Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2015’, the total amount of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 in the UK was 440,000, a prevalence rate of 1380 per 100,000 members of the workforce.

High levels of stress in the workplace is also related to high staff turnover and poor workplace relations.

How to manage stress at work

If you are concerned about your own stress levels or that of a colleague’s, actively seeking ways to manage the stress is a significant move in helping to overcome the problems associated with stress overload.

When was the last time you sat down and analysed your own work schedule and daily tasks or those of your team? By evaluating workloads you will have a clearer picture of how over-worked you and your team might be, as being faced with too much work is a key contributor to work-based stress.

Measures such as avoiding over-committing yourself and trying to fit too much into the day can help combat stress at work. As can taking regular breaks and avoiding checking emails and other forms of communication in and out of work hours.

The HSE’s guide to ‘Tackling Stress: The Management Standard Approach’ outlines key features of a working environment which should be closely monitored in order to assess stress levels.

These key areas include monitoring demands, such as workload and work patterns, controlling how much a person has to do at work, providing support in the way of encouragement and mentoring, creating a positive working environment to help avoid conflict and workplace bullying, ensuring people understand their role at work, and effectively communicating change within an organisation.

America’s Stress Awareness Month is certainly a positive step in helping to raise awareness to the problems stress can cause, but the only way to truly combat intense stress, is to tackle it on a daily basis.

Have you been overly stressed about work-related issues? How do you manage employee stress in your team or organisation? Perhaps you have taken measures and helped lower your stress levels at work? We’d love to hear our readers’ stories and views about stress at work and managing stress in the workplace.

Keep returning to our regularly updated blog for more news, views, tips and advice on similar topics.