Stress is an inevitable part of life, but when it becomes chronic, it can harm not only employees but also the whole team. Stress is a leading cause of absenteeism in the UK, with an estimated 17 million workdays lost annually due to stress, anxiety, and depression (LFS, 2022). As a health coach for Surgery Hero, I’ve seen firsthand how stress can impact employees' health, motivation, and productivity.
April is 'Stress Awareness Month', so there is no better time to bring employee stress to the forefront.
Stress can manifest itself in various ways, both physically and mentally - some are more obvious than others.
Someone who is experiencing stress may display the following symptoms:
In particular, there can be some tell-tale signs of someone who is stressed at work. Spotting these challenges can be the first step in tackling stress:
Frequent and unexplained absences from work
As we know from the research, stress is one of the main causes of absence from work. People who are stressed can often feel like they may choose to completely avoid the situation causing them stress, especially if it’s getting worse. If you have an employee who is frequently off work it may be time to explore whether stress is a factor.
Reduction in productivity
According to a recent report, 33% of employees report that high levels of stress impact their productivity. Signs that someone is stressed can include a lack of enjoyment from activities they would usually enjoy, and a lack of motivation to take on their usual roles and responsibilities.
Changes in behaviour
Stress alters our nervous system and can cause us to behave differently. Someone who is stressed may become more irritable or short-tempered. It is also common for people with stress to feel overwhelmed or become emotional over what we would usually consider minor inconveniences.
Relationship changes with colleagues
With the above in mind, we know stress can cause changes in our reactions, and behaviours and can cause people to act out of character. This can cause a shift and strain on the dynamics of workplace relationships.
1. Raise awareness of stress management
Sometimes employees may not realise they're stressed until it's too late. Therefore, it's important to create a culture of stress awareness in the workplace. Encourage open conversations, hold regular employee well-being reviews, and share stress management resources via email to help people recognise stress early on. According to a survey by Deloitte, organizations with a strong stress management culture report 21% lower turnover rates and 19% lower absenteeism (Deloitte, 2022).
2. Encourage healthy habits
A healthy lifestyle can be a major stress buster. Regular physical activity reduces stress hormones in the body and stimulates endorphin production, which boosts mood. A healthy diet and quality sleep also contribute to better stress management. Encouraging healthy habits, such as providing healthy lunch options or starting a lunchtime walking group, can make a big difference in employee stress levels.
3. Encourage open conversations between colleagues and managers
Research shows that peer support at work can increase resilience in employees and relieve stress and pressure on the whole team (Agarwal et al., 2019). Encourage employees to seek support from each other through informal or formal catch-ups, and consider offering employee assistance programs to provide confidential emotional support.
4. Encourage work-life balance
Having a poor work-life balance is one of the greatest predictors of stress at work (NEF, 2014). Long hours worked over a threshold of 35-55 hours per week can cause increased stress levels. Offering your employees flexible work options, such as remote work, compressed work weeks, or job sharing, can help them achieve a better work-life balance.
5. Provide opportunities for mindfulness and relaxation
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, are effective stress management tools. Consider offering regular wellness sessions, such as virtual yoga classes or meditation workshops, to help employees recharge and refocus.
6. Support career development and growth
Providing opportunities for employees to grow and develop in their careers can help alleviate stress and increase job satisfaction. According to a study by the University of Warwick, employees who feel happy at work are 12% more productive than those who are not (University of Warwick, 2019). Offer training, mentorship, or stretch assignments to help employees develop new skills and interests.
Reducing workplace stress requires a multifaceted approach that involves both individuals and the organisation. By creating a culture of stress awareness, encouraging healthy habits, providing opportunities for support and relaxation, and supporting career development, employers can help employees manage stress and improve their well-being, motivation, and productivity.
Additional resources to help with stress management