Whilst small doses of stress can be useful at work - pushing us to do better, challenging us and helping us to achieve great things - working to minimise stress as much as possible in the workplace can help us perform better, think clearer and lead healthier, happier lives.
So, what are the causes of workplace stress?
There are a number of work-related factors that can cause an individual to become excessively stressed, such as:
- Excessive demands
- Extreme workloads
- Unclear job description
- Lack of work control/ little flexibility
- Lack of peer support
- Poor environmental working conditions
- Neglected work relationships
- Overwhelming emotions/mental state
- Regular work & system changes
- Poor communication
- Unobtainable goals
If you, a colleague or one of your members of staff is struggling with stress from one of the above issues, they may start to exhibit some negative signs. These are the key symptoms of stress you should watch out for:
- irritability, flashes of frustration or mood swings
- change in diet (over or under eating)
- overly tired (which could signal difficulty sleeping or being overworked)
- getsting ill frequently
- chest pain/heart issues
- aches and pains, specifically in the neck, back and shoulders
- stomach upset
- frequent headaches (these will be tension headaches)
- becoming less sociable
- depression and sadness
- low self esteem
- feeling overwhelmed
- confusion or inability to focus
These symptoms can greatly affect the individual's happiness and their overall sense of worth, and over long periods can have an extremely damaging impact. That's why, as part of a strategy to manage stress within the workplace, it’s key to try to combat potential causes of stress before they arise - and thankfully, many businesses already have checks in place to do this. However if you are a business owner or manager and are not sure about how you are managing your team's stress levels, there are a few tips below to help you make some changes that will ensure your staff stay happy, healthy and as stress-free as possible.
However, if you are someone who struggles with stress at work, there are also a few things you can do too to help minimise stress as much as possible in your day-to-day - just click here to jump to our actionable advice for employees.
If you are a business owner, we recommend that you focus on the following things to best manage stress at work:
Make sure job descriptions and individual tasks are clear (and check in to ensure that both are 100% understood by the employee) and if possible get them to recite back the information in their own words. This can help not only them reinforce the information with themselves, it can highlight their understanding of their role or task so that if there are any issues, they can be ironed out early.
Whilst every person might think they are being clear, everyone understands information in their own way, so checking your employees are on the same page as you can go a long way in ensuring they are doing what you need them to in the way you want them to, and they will feel less stressed with the clarification.
Check in Regularly
Working this into your schedule, such as into regular meetings or at the start of everyday, is the best way to ensure your employee is not overloaded, confused and therefore becoming stressed out. The key is to create a friendly and open environment within which they can be honest about their workload or how they feel about tasks or support, and to check in and allow them to voice any concerns.
Whilst this can be slightly time-consuming at first, getting into the habit of checking in can become an easy and integrated part of your working life (and theirs), making catch ups quick and simple the more frequently they occur. Regular check-ups can also minimise the risk of bigger issues down the line that can be caused by an unmanageable workload, confusion over tasks or roles, poor working conditions, or lack of support. If left unaddressed, all these issues can have catastrophic consequences on the business, so it’s best to catch them early and minimise the damage – and your employee’s stress levels!
Managers should aim at promoting positive caring attitudes among work colleagues and a relaxed, supportive environment. Referrals to workplace counselors or specialist agencies should be carried out when required.
Promoting good relationships by the way of work functions such as:
- Massage Days
- Team Building Events
- Health Awareness Days
- Personal Development Parties
- Social Evenings
- Cakes on Fridays
These events help staff relax, build relationships, and help to develop positive team thinking.
Create a Relaxed & Safe Environment
Help employees to manage their workload where possible and allow them to have a direct input on their work environment to help improve their working conditions, as well as your business. Providing adequate support and training will also give more individual control.
Managers should have correct training or HR resources for carrying out stress and environmental risk assessments, such as covering health and safety guidelines and counselling education. Any environmental or possible safety problems should be brought to light and addressed as soon as possible.
According to ACAS, organisations who talk with their employers on a regular basis are much more likely to avoid work related stress. In addition, having clear well-known procedures in place to deal with absence and disciplinary procedures can also help to reduce stress in the work place.
Ensure your team have the tools they need
Ensuring your team have the tools and equipment to do their job properly and efficiently ensures that not only will they be happier in work and less stressed out by difficulties in the day to day practicalities of working, but it will also make your business better overall.
Changing work systems themselves can also be stressful, and poor management of change can lead to excessive stress, which is something to watch out for. The organisation should assess the risks and challenges of the change before making it and communicate these with the team, as well as communicating the plan thoroughly during execution. Feedback on issues and questions need an adequate forum where they can be aired. Learning lunches or after-work discussion hours can work well to encourage communication discussions.
Manage deadlines, targets and work pressure fairly
People react differently to work pressures and deadlines; a certain level of pressure may help to motivate your team, but excessive pressure can cause severe stress. To make sure you manage this, help your team to reground and learn to take a step back when things get too much, and ensure that they take care of themselves overall. Offer incentives to keep your team motivated, and clear targets for them to work towards, keeping the future a positive one. Watch out for excessive demands that occur continuously over a long period of time.
Managers should try to assess each person and identify the specific problems, find solutions, and create an individual action plan. Record the effects of the action plan and review regularly. The monitoring of sickness, turnover and absence data may also be worthwhile for reviewing and ensuring the actions taken by the business to manage staff stress are showing to be effective.
Some Final Things to Consider
Job roles that change without proper reassessing of the job description can cause stress. All companies have a responsibility to ensure no one is put under undue pressure and to recognise the symptoms of stress. Employees should be able to discuss these matters with a relevant person within the company, and problems should be always be identified as early as possible, and an action plan set out to prevent or minimise stress.
Job descriptions should be regularly reviewed so they incorporate changes and ensure they are current.
When it comes to workplace stress, there are so many issues that can play a part and can end up making your working life a stress-filled nightmare. However, the good news is, nearly all the problems can be remedied with a little help and some good communication.
Step One: Understand Your Stressor
The first key to resolving your workplace stress is to understand the root cause. You may be able to do this yourself, or you may need to discuss your issues with a friend, family member or work colleague. Alternatively you can write down some of the things that are worrying you, and see if you can assess why they are causing you stress. You can consider the following?
- Is the stress merited?
- Is it only a short term problem? Or is it more long term?
- And most importantly - is anything you can do about it (or anyone you can speak to who can)?
Step Two: Assess Your Stress
Once you have the reason for your stress, you need to assess it to know best how to tackle it. To do this, there is one key question to answer.
Can you change the stressor?
In essence, is the stressful source something that can be adapted, changed or made better? Can you talk to someone, or get support that will make the stressor easier to manage? Is there something you can do to reduce the stress inflicted upon you?
Step 3: List Your Remedies
If you can change your stressor, consider all the ways you could improve the cause of your stress, and all the people you could speak to help you do this. Can you get support from a colleague, talk to your manager, or to a HR team member? Can you get some better tools? Delegate some tasks? Reassess unrealistic deadlines or expectations? Make an action plan, and discuss with a friend how to best approach to change for best results.
If you cannot change the stressor, you need to consider how you can change & how you can better manage the stress to ensure that you stay healthy and happy, despite workplace pressures. To help, we've listed below the top three things you can do to help you manage workplace stress.
Tips to cope with stress in the workplace
Some jobs take more time or brainpower than others to manage, so giving yourself half an hour the day before to organise you tasks can make the world of difference. The small sacrifice of your time will give back dividends in being able to enjoy a stress-free day, and will contribute no end to your day-to-day happiness.
Ensure your employer knows what you can and cannot do
Communication goes both ways in the workplace, and being clear about what you are able to do in terms of skills, communicating where you have gaps in your knowledge, as well as being clear about what you can accomplish in the time given is key to managing your employers expectations of you. If you do not know something, do not be afraid to ask – good employers will provide the support and training you need.
Enjoy your hobbies and set personal goals
If you cannot change your workplace stress, then it is key to be able to switch off after home time. Make sure you set yourself some fun goals, take time to do things you love and spend time with those you love. Think about things you’ve always wanted to do and plan them in to give yourself things to look forward to and keep yourself motivated and happy throughout the year.
Always wanted to climb Mount Snowden? Maybe you’d like to write a book? Or perhaps you’d just like to buy the next Playstation and complete a new game with friends? Whatever inspires you and makes you smile, get some dates in the diary and get excited!
There are also some other things that can help you cope with all kinds of stress, so if you're feeling a bit frazzled, try some of these stress reduction tips to recharge and relax.
Practical ways to relieve stress
Exercise keeps you healthy and releases endorphins to help you feel awesome. Find something that you love, or pair up with a friend to help keep motivated.
A good diet is not only great for your overall health, helping you stay fighting fit, but it’s also another facet of taking care of yourself. Keeping a regular focus on looking after yourself and your body will help you feel better overall, and keep you strong as well, so that you can handle anything work throws at you!
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep keeps us healthy and happy, so we have the energy to deal with the difficulties of the day-to-day. It will also help to reduce stress by giving yourself time to relax, unwind and recharge.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Substances such as alcohol and drugs can make stress symptoms worse in the long run, by masking problems, and cause other health and emotional issues. Whilst it’s common to hear about someone having a stressful day at work and ‘needing a drink’ to get over it, this can become a bad habit that is hard to shake. Learning to deal with problems head on will make you overall healthier and happier – and then you can always enjoy a drink in a better state of mind.
Have a Massage
Not only is massage a great way to release some of those physical tensions stress can cause, it gives us an opportunity to stop, relax and unwind – something we don’t often get to do in today’s society. Massage can also directly impact some of the issues caused by stress. For instance, massage brings down blood pressure, relaxes tense muscles (especially in the back, shoulders and neck), and can increase endorphins making us feel happier overall!
Deep breathing techniques
Sometimes one of the best ways to manage stress is just by taking a breath. Breathing slows the heart rate and gets more oxygen to your brain, helping you to think clearer. It also help you to centre yourself and take a moment to take stock of what really matters. Try the 4-7-8 breathing method to reground, either at work or at home.
Yoga, Tia Chi & hydrotherapy
Try some more spiritual approaches to aid your stress reduction, such as yoga, Tia Chi or hydrotherapy. Each focuses on heightening the senses and can help you find more peace within yourself and the world.
A more modern activity that has taken off in the past year or so, forest bathing is quite simply what it sounds like - getting out in amongst the trees! Harking back to the days when we used to spend more of our days outside among the wilderness, forest bathing involves getting out for nature walks specifically amongst a lot of greenery, which has a few benefits for combatting stress.
Not only does the simple act of walking around do you some good, the vitamin D will also give you a boost and being around plants can improve the quality of air we breathe, helping us feel better. Plus, you’ll have lots of lovely scenery to enjoy along the way!
Our friends and family can help us through some difficult times too, and help us enjoy our time outside of work. Talking about work can also help you to let off steam, and your friends might be able to offer some words of wisdom too – if not a few jokes to help you feel a little better!
We hope some of these tips will help you to cope with stress at work, and better manage the way you deal with stress going forward. Remember to look after yourself and to put your peace of mind first – everything else will follow.
Finally, we’ll end on a final quote from Hungarian scientist of stressors, Hans Selye:
‘It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it’.
So consider your reactions, what your stress is and why it causes you to feel how you feel, and decide to act or feel differently. You are in control of your body, your mind and your emotions, and you can decide to beat stress.