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Easing Stress in the Workplace

On Wednesday 4th November, 2015, the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) will hold its annual awareness event, National Stress Awareness Day. ISMA exists to promote knowledge and best practice in the prevention and reduction of stress. The theme of their campaign this year is “Employee Wellbeing as a Worthwhile Investment in Your Business”

Many factors contribute to stress and overload in the workplace, including organisational change, demanding workloads, poor communication, and interpersonal conflicts among individuals or groups. Stress may also be the result of personal issues or family problems that have nothing to do with work.

Whatever the cause, stress can have a negative effect on job performance, retention, morale, commitment and absenteeism. Successful organisations recognise the stresses employees are under and make an effort to ease sources of stress in the workplace.

Here are four tips:

1. Start by managing your own feelings of stress and overload.

For managers, especially first-time managers, stress can be part of the job. Before you can help employees manage their stress productively, you must first learn to manage your own. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be aware of the symptoms and signs of stress in yourself. They include difficulty sleeping, fatigue, depression, feeling nervous, anxious or irritable, trouble concentrating, overeating or having no appetite, withdrawing from family or friends, tearfulness or frequent crying, tense muscles, stomach pain, upset stomach or headache, drug or alcohol misuse, lower productivity at work.
  • Find ways to manage stress that work for you. Get regular exercise, go for a 30 minute walk at lunchtime, practice deep-breathing, yoga or meditation, talk your problems through with trusted colleague or friend, be aware of how many hours you are working, take advantage of the benefits offered by your employer to help reduce stress.

2. Take stresses and strains in employees’ personal lives into consideration.

There are many common personal stressors – divorce, a sick family member and moving house, to name just a few – and the extent to which they affect performance will vary with each employee.

  • Refer employees to your employee assistance programme. Familiarise yourself with the service and keep brochures or contact information to hand to give to employees.
  • Show your support without being intrusive when an employee is going through a difficult or stressful time.

3. Do what you can to reduce sources of stress in your workplace.

Employees who feel overworked have difficulty focusing on the work they have to do. Here are some ways to help reduce sources of overload and stress among employees:

  • Understand the sources of workplace stress including workplace change and reorganisation, interpersonal conflict, too much work, poor job fit, roles or responsibilities not clearly defined, unreasonable deadlines, poor communication, lack of training needed to do the work
  • Help people prioritise tasks. Try to come up with solutions to manage your employees’ job demands and reduce their stress.
  • Create a work pattern that provides employees with the flexibility to allow them to meet personal responsibilities. If they talk openly about it, take note of employees’ commitments and priorities outside work and offer whatever adjustments you can.

4. Respect and support work-life boundaries and balance.

  • Respect boundaries between personal and work lives. Avoid calling an employee at home or sending e-mails about work issues after business hours. Don’t encourage people to take work home.
  • Be aware of how many hours employees work. Who is pushing themselves too hard? If someone’s hours seem particularly long, watch and keep a record for your own use only. It’s important to make sure that valued employees don’t burn themselves out. If people work late consistently, find out why.
  • Be supportive and caring in your interactions with employees. Ask what you can do to help.

The above tips were taken from the LifeWorks booklet “Succeeding as a Manager” which is available to LifeWorks customers to order or download via LifeWorks.com. LifeWorks offers many practical resources that can help employees to manage stress as well as simplify, prioritise, set goals and make positive choices.