Dr Susan Michie, from the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London has published an interesting paper on the causes and management of stress within the workplace.
The paper (which can be viewed for free here) covers topics such as, the main causes of stress, the effects of stress, and how individuals manage stress differently.
Many of the findings in the paper, and the points raised, are valuable for their ability to highlight the need to make adjustments in our working lives in order to combat rising stress levels which can be linked to long term health issues such as, heart disease and depression.
When we feel stressed our ability to function at our normal level decreases, leading to reduced focus, lower collaboration rates, and a decrease in productivity.
The effects of stress impact not only ourselves, but our peers, customers and management representatives, and often overspill into home life.
Avoiding stress completely is unlikely, but learning how to recognise stress triggers, manage workloads, increase confidence, and boost mental well-being can all help in maintaining a healthy, manageable stress level.
The following information highlights the main points of the paper which are useful in helping to combat stress at work.
What is Stress?
Stress is generally accepted today to be an interaction between a situation and an individual. The psychological and physical response that occurs when an individual is underequipped to deal with the pressure of a given situation for any reason.
Because of this, stress is more likely in some situations than others, while also, some people appear to be more resilient to it than others.
Stress can have a huge impact on the lives of individuals, their achievements and their well-being, and by extension, also impacts upon the organisation for whom they work.
Stress and Behaviour
Stress changes how people think, feel and act, even in situations that they can normally manage well.
Symptoms of stress can manifest in the following ways:
• Lack of concentration
• Difficulty with problem solving
Long term, persistently high stress levels can lead to changes in both the physical and mental functioning of an individual and may lead to heart disease, depression and immunological impairment.
Learning to manage stress – understanding how to be more resilient to it, how to deal with the mental and physical bodily responses, and how to manage stressful situations so they don’t become a bigger problem, is vital in order to prevent ill-health and sustain a healthy mind/body balance.
It is also imperative that organisations learn how to help their employees deal with stress.
Stress Levels in the Workplace
There are situations that more likely to cause an increase in stress, such as, those that are uncontrollable, unpredictable and uncertain. We can’t predict or prevent these instances but we can learn how to recognise our own symptoms of stress and try to deal with them in a timely manner so that they remain manageable.
However, there are also daily factors that increase stress levels among employees that organisations should be aware of and, where possible, help to alleviate, eliminate, or offer support to those who may potentially be most at risk.
Workplace stress can be caused by:
• Time demands or restrictions – tight deadlines, commuting, home/work balance
• Job insecurity
• Conflict within the workplace
• Lack of breaks/holiday/time off
• Unclear boundaries
• Long hours
• Unrealistic goals
• Lack of knowledge/skills/training
• Poor management
• Poor working conditions
These stresses within the workplace can lead to:
• Loss of performance
• Loss of production
• High staff turnover
• Increased staff absence
• Reduced customer satisfaction
• Workplace accidents
Good employment practices should be utilised which aim to reduce the risk of stress amongst employees and improve working environments for everyone.
This might include an analysis of working procedures, assessments of high-pressure situations, ensuring employees are right for their given role and tasks, and an analysis of employees to ensure they are coping and content.
Managing Stress within the Workplace
The paper, by Dr Susan Michie, states that “individuals differ in their risk of experiencing stress and in their vulnerability to the adverse effects of stress” so individuals with a lack of material resources (money or financial security) and those who have limited coping skills and self-esteem are more inclined to suffer from stress.
Organisations can support employees in a variety of ways with both preventative and remedial options including:
• Adaptable working conditions dependent upon physical and mental health
• Employees given opportunity to engage with their own development and progression, and their work situation
• Work structure, technology and tasks are designed so employee is not exposed to additional metal or physical strains – they are given the right ‘tools’ to perform their role
• Overly monitored or restricted work should be avoided when possible
• Opportunities for personal and professional development
• Social and external opportunities for interaction (this might include charity based efforts, team building exercises and so on)
• Flexible and approachable management and leaders (including opportunity for feedback, mentoring and coaching)
In recent years there has been increasing legislation regarding employers need to assess all health and safety risks for employees, including stress levels.
Creating a safe system of work where employees are content, satisfied and healthy has become increasingly vital and plays an important role in successful businesses.
There are many interventions that organisations can implement in order to improve employees health and well-being including:
• Professional development training
• Soft skills training
• Regularly updating IT training and education for new technology
• Encouraging mentoring
• Stress management education
• Improving communication skills at all levels of the workforce
At Creative Word Training we know how important it is to keep staff training up-to-date and ensure a happy and content workforce.
Our experts can advise you on the best training courses for your team and can offer bespoke course available as online modules or classroom based training.