How managers can help reduce stress in the workplace

A certain level of stress at work is normal and can even be a good thing. Low-level stress can galvanise us to achieve under pressure – to focus on giving a great presentation, contributing to a meeting or communicating our strengths in a job interview, for example.

Most of us will feel workplace stress from time to time, but it’s when stress at work becomes too intense, and/or drawn out that it can become a problem. A near-constant burden of heavy workloads, tight deadlines and long hours can mean we experience far more workplace stress than is healthy or constructive. This can have a negative effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. Workplace stress can manifest in several ways, but common signs include:

  • feeling anxious
  • irritable
  • low mood/depressed
  • problems sleeping
  • tension headaches

Stress in the workplace in the UK

Workplace stress is a common problem in the UK. In fact, the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44 per cent of all work-related ill health cases in recent years. More than half of all sick days (54 per cent) were attributed to stress.

When the workers surveyed were asked what caused their workplace stress, most cited factors included workload pressures, tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. This last factor is a particularly important one, as there are many things managers can do to alleviate stress for their team members.

It’s well documented that employees who feel supported at work are happier in their roles, more productive and less likely to look for another job.

What about people working from home?

Of course, today’s working environment has changed dramatically in recent months, with huge numbers of employees working from home due to social distancing guidelines.

Traditionally, workplace stress has been considered just that – stress in the workplace – but working at home for extended periods can create its own issues, especially when it’s not what workers are used to.

Although working from home can offer more flexibility, problems finding a quiet space to work, lack of contact with colleagues and managers and difficulty setting boundaries between work and leisure time can all cause stress.

It’s important that employees and managers alike recognise that working from home can also be stressful, and to look out for, and work to combat, signs of stress.

How can managers help employees deal with stress?

Whether employees are working from an office or from home, there are ways that managers can help them deal with stress. The following stress management techniques can really make a difference.

Lead by example

It’s important for those in management roles to provide a positive example to follow when it comes to dealing with workplace stress. Employees who are experiencing stress at work are far more likely to listen to and take advice from a manager who is able to stay calm in stressful situations.

Check in one-to-one

Many employees who are feeling the pressure at work may choose to stay quiet about the fact that they are struggling with stress. They may worry that raising the issue will sound like they are failing to cope in their role, or that admitting that they need help could even harm their career progression.

The onus should be on managers to check in with their team members regularly on a one-to-one basis, so that they have an opportunity to broach any worries or stress-related problems in private.

Time management

Juggling multiple tasks can be problematic, especially when deadlines are tight. A lack of headway can make employees feel like they’re never doing enough, and snowballing workloads only serve to exacerbate stress levels.

Managers can help by helping employees plan their time with a daily or weekly schedule, ensure they take regular breaks away from their screens or workspace, and establish boundaries between work and personal time. Starting each morning with a short planning meeting to run over what each team member will be working on that day is a good way to ensure employees aren’t trying to take on too much at once.

Set clear expectations

It’s vital that managers set clear goals and expectations for employees. Not understanding what is expected of you is stressful in its own right, so managers should ensure team members fully grasp their roles and responsibilities, as well as the outcome they should be working towards.

Above all, managers should look out for any changes in the behaviour of their team members and keep lines of communication open so that these can be addressed.

Stress in the workplace may be a fact of life, but with the right support and approach, it needn’t become a problem that affects health or wellbeing. To find out more about dealing with stress at work or helping those who are experiencing it, please get in touch.