We get to hear a lot about the stress people experience at work. It is often the real reason they approach us to help them with a career change in the first place. By then stress has gone far beyond what is healthy.

Most people are all too familiar with workplace stress. The uneasy feeling and tension as a deadline approaches or the butterfly’s in the stomach as an important presentation or pitch looms. Some stress at work is good for you. It helps you to focus and prepares you for action. However, prolonged and sustained stress can lead to health issues, mental health problems and long term absence due to illness. That’s when it becomes a problem for individuals and the organisations they work for. Recognising and understanding how to tackle stress is something managers in all organisations, big or small, should prepare for.

In our blog ‘Start a conversation about mental health’ we explored the size of the problem and the negative effect on both an employee and their employer. Knowing what to do about stress at work is a key management skill that has important business, social and moral implications.

Causes of stress and recognising the signs

The top six causes of stress are:

  • specific demands of the job
  • the amount of control an employee has over their work
  • support received from managers and colleagues
  • workplace relationships
  • the employee’s role in the organisation
  • organisational change and how it’s managed

It is really important that employers are tuned in to how their employees are feeling. The symptoms of stress can appear in a number of ways and some of the typical signs are:

Emotional – An individual may seem sensitive to criticism, be irritable, have an uncharacteristic loss of confidence or self-esteem, and seem to be less engaged.

Cognitive –  You may notice an individual is making more mistakes than usual, is having problems making decisions, or isn’t able to concentrate.

Behavioural – This could include things like consistently arriving late, not taking lunch breaks, taking unplanned time off, not joining in with the team or office banter, or maybe not meeting deadlines.

Physical – Employees who are stressed sometimes exhibit physical symptoms such as having a constant cold, being overtired at work, making less effort with their appearance, rapid weight loss or gain.

Managers have a massive and potentially difficult role to play.

Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step. Understandably, many managers are worried about approaching the subject of stress, being wrong or causing offence. If the manager is part of the problem, then a neutral third party will be needed. Where there is one, a company’s HR department or outside provider can be an informal and independent sounding board.

Ask the employee for a quiet word somewhere private and then let them know that it’s been noticed they’ve not been themselves and ask if they’d like to talk about it. Any meeting should be confidential, non-threatening, open and provide an opportunity for the individual concerned, their line manager and any HR professional to discuss and identify what support the business can offer to better help the employee to cope.

Here are a number of short-term tactics that you can implement that can go a long way in helping you to tackle workplace stress:

  • reminding managers that a genuine ‘thank you’ goes a long way in helping people feel valued
  • being aware of workloads and providing support if unreasonable demands are being made
  • being aware of a repeated stressful situation related to an individuals’ job role
  • making sure staff take their full holiday entitlement
  • providing a stress management workshop for all employees to ensure no one feels they have been singled out

Management style

Managers come in all shapes and sizes with a range of management styles. Some may be uncaring, inflexible or unsure. Others are nurturing, empathic and supportive. Either way, management style, good or bad, has a direct effect on staff wellbeing and morale.

Training managers in leadership skills can help. Key management behaviours to consider include:

  • always showing respect and managing personal emotions in all interactions with people
  • letting the team know what is coming up so that they can better manage their workloads
  • taking a collaborative approach that empowers individuals to take charge of their work
  • treating people as individuals, being approachable, showing empathy and taking responsibility to help people manage their work / life balance better
  • helping individuals to deal with difficult situations, proving support and helping to resolve conflicts

How an organisation deals with workplace stress reflects massively on its reputation as an employer. For the sake of the health of individuals and the business, taking the issues seriously is good for everyone.

Employers and candidates tell us that First Base is their first choice for help with their recruitment requirements and their personal career progression. If you would like to know more about how the First Base team could help you, contact us on 01453 755330.