There are lots of different methods, approaches and theories around this, but in my view it comes down to three key things. Recognising stress, dealing with it, and preventing it.
How will you know?
If your employees are suffering stress there are some signs you can look out for, mainly around changes in performance or behaviour.
Performance at work might decline or become erratic. Employees might demonstrate loss of concentration, motivation or commitment.
In terms of behaviour, absence levels and lateness may increase; employees may become irritable, over-sensitive, withdrawn or demonstrate mood swings or out-of-character behaviour.
You may notice more disputes and disaffection within a team, and an increase in turnover and complaints or grievances.
What to do when it happens?
So if you identify that an individual or group is suffering with stress, what should you do about it?
First you need to do what you can to find out the root cause of the stress, and make adjustments where at all possible. Root causes may be related to workload, relationships at work, lack of support, poor management or organisational change.
Depending what the cause is, some things you might want to consider to address a stress problem include:
- Encouraging employees to seek medical help, from their GP as a first point of call
- Seeking specialist Occupational Health advice on addressing the problem
- Considering providing the employee/employees with counselling or other extra support
- Making adjustments to workload
- Changing management style (even a subtle change can have a huge impact), which might involve coaching or training for managers
- Taking steps to improve relationships within teams which might involve mediation, team building or similar
- Just taking notice of what employees are telling you, and making sure they feel involved and listened to.
Of course preventing stress from becoming a problem in the first place is ideal, and at least preventing it from recurring. What this means is being aware of the factors in your business that are more likely to trigger stress, and making every effort to improve those.
The top work-related causes of stress at work are workload issues, management style, relationships at work and organisational change.
So one way of preventing stress have a look at how you are managing those things in your business, and ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you know what your employees think about their workload?
- Do you know what your employees think about how they are managed?
- How much do you know about relationships between employees at work?
- When there are tensions, are you stepping in or avoiding them?
- When you have to restructure, make redundancies or other similar events, are you taking proper professional advice and managing these things well?
Something else you can do is look at the HSE’s Management Standards approach to dealing with stress. It outlines five Standards which, if met, reduce the likelihood of stress problems.
The Standards are:
- Demands, including issues like workload, work patterns and working environment
- Control, meaning how much control a person has over the way they do their work
- Support, including line management, colleagues and resources
- Relationships, including avoiding conflict and responding to concerns
- Role, meaning whether people understand their role within the business.
Much of the information you need to answer those questions and address those factors can be elicited through annual appraisals, regular one-to-ones and just increased awareness of what’s going on. Make sure you ‘walk the floor’ regularly, rather than hide in your office.
You don’t necessarily need a specific stress policy, although many employers do have one to ensure there is a framework in place for recognising, addressing and preventing stress, and providing a course of action for both managers and employees.
Most of this really boils down to really good people management. If you design jobs and organise work well, and make sure managers have the skills to manage effectively, employees will feel more motivated, engaged and less stressed.
Thanks to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Absence Management Report 2012 and to the Health and Safety Executive for statistics and other information.