Unhealthy levels of stress can severely impact an individual and the organisation in which they work. High stress levels that aren’t being managed appropriately, can lead to health problems, low productivity and conflict between coworkers, ultimately, opening up possibilities for workplace bullying, stress claims and workplace investigations. It is crucial to ensure strategies are in place to prevent unhealthy levels of stress in the workplace.
STRATEGIES TO MANAGE AND DEAL WITH STRESS AT WORK
It is important to remember that not all stress is bad. In fact, a certain amount of stress can be a good motivator and should be expected as a part of most working environments. However, like most things, every person has their own individual triggers, tolerance levels and management strategies for stress. The main challenge involved in maintaining a healthy level of stress is to balance these levels to ensure employees stay motivated, stimulated and productive without the negative impacts on health that are created by unmanageable levels of stress.
When an individual starts to find it difficult to cope at work and both their work and personal lives are being affected, this is usually an indication that their stress is at an unhealthy level.
Basic tools individuals can use to manage stress
- Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation;
- Regular exercise;
- A balanced diet;
- Improving time management or planning;
- Talking to trusted friends or family about stressors;
- Delegating tasks until stress levels are reduced;
Prolonged stress can become harmful to an individual’s physical and/or psychological health, potentially causing mental and/or physical illness. Signs of prolonged or unhealthy stress levels in the workplace can be seen in both employees and employers.
Signs to look out for
- Increased absenteeism;
- Arriving late to work on a regular basis;
- Reduction in performance;
- Moodiness or melancholy;
- Uncharacteristic aggression or emotional outbursts.
Generally, an employer has the right to assume that an employee is capable to undertake their role and cope on a daily basis provided that no unrealistic expectations have been placed on them. Therefore, in order for a stress-related claim to be made and approved, the employee must be able to prove that there is a direct link between their workplace and the high stress levels that they are experiencing.
Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for their employees. Simply, this means that organisations must be proactive in minimising stressors within the workplace wherever possible.
Typically, a manager’s strategy for dealing with employee stress can be broken down into three steps;
- Determining the stress factors
- Formulating controlling strategies
- Implementing and monitoring these strategies.
STEP ONE: DETERMINING THE STRESS FACTORS WITHIN THE WORKPLACE
This step can be conducted by completing a Workplace Stress Assessment. This formal process usually involves the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) manager or representative within the organisation. The main purpose of the assessment is to identify any potential stressors which may cause unnecessary stress to an employee throughout their day-to-day work routine. Before beginning this assessment, it is important to consider and come to a conclusion about;
The scope of the assessment: Ensure you set a scope which is suitable for the size of the organisation to allow the assessment to be completed accurately and in a timely manner;
The methodology of the assessment: What is the most beneficial way to complete the assessment without being overly invasive or discouraging employees from participating? Some methods to consider are having conversations with several employees, inspecting the workplace from the perspective of these employees, observing interactions between employees and reviewing information, records and incident reports regarding issues within the scope;
Potential privacy issues: Ensure any information used is anonymous, where suitable, and any findings are shared appropriately;
How will the outcome be communicated to the organisation: Create a plan detailing how all employees will be informed of the outcome of the assessment as well as any improvements you are looking to make within the workplace.
STEP TWO: FORMULATE CONTROL STRATEGIES
This step involves using the outcomes of the Workplace Stress Assessment to determine how identified workplace stressors can be controlled and/or alleviated. This may involve seeking input from employees and managers directly affected by identified stressors, about what measures might best assist them. Seeking employee input will increase the level of ‘buy-in’ for any new procedures or strategies implemented in the workplace.
STEP THREE: IMPLEMENTING AND MONITORING STRESS MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
The outcome of the Workplace Stress Assessment will assist in creating or updating the organisation’s ‘Stress Management Policy and Procedure’. Some useful stress control strategies include:
- Greater flexibility in working hours/locations (allowing working from home);
- Further training and a greater support system for the workplace;
- Training to improve time management skills;
- Regular consultations with staff regarding their directives and the resources required to cope with tasks;
- Implementation of wellbeing activities
It is likely that one policy will not be sufficient in identifying all potential stressors within a workplace. For this reason, managers and supervisors should receive extra training to ensure they understand what causes stress. Having a stress management policy and making sure all managers and staff are familiar with the policy, will also be a useful control measure.
All members of the organisation need to be informed and regularly reminded of the potentially negative impacts of prolonged stress on an individual’s health. Managers need to take a proactive approach to stress management to ensure employees are not at risk of discomfort or illness due to prolonged stress.
Regular audits should be conducted to ensure that the developed ‘Stress Management Policy and Procedure’ is effective and being correctly implemented by all members of the organisation.