Stress in the Workplace: Signs, effects and strategies to prevent and overcome it

Stress is something that will likely affect all of us at some point in our lives. According to the UK Health and Safety Executive, 17.9 million days were lost due to stress in the last couple of years, placing a huge strain on businesses. Stress in the workplace generally stems from having too much responsibility, work to do, or a lack of control over certain situations. Stress affects people differently, but ultimately it can negatively impact health and wellbeing, productivity and performance, as well as the organisation more widely.

Employers should mitigate the risk of employees suffering from stress by taking pre-emptive steps to minimise its potential, rather than waiting for the signs to show. This includes putting preventive strategies in place, as well as fostering a supporting environment that encourages an open and honest culture where stress can be spoken about, mitigated and combatted moving forward.

What are the causes of workplace stress?

There are several areas that can lead to workplace stress if they are not managed properly and it’s important to recognise that stress affects people differently. What leads to high levels of stress in one person may not affect another, as factors like skills, experience or age can influence an individual’s ability to cope.

According to research by CIPD, workplace stress can be due to:

  • An overburdening or over-challenging workload
  • Management style resulting in conflict and/or anxiety over performance
  • Relationships at work
  • Personal problems such as: relationships, family, finances, health
  • Covid specific issues:
    • Anxiety over the pandemic, including generalised fear and fear of coming into the workplace, for example
    • Poor work-life balance as a result of working from home
    • Other issues such as balancing family commitments and working from home

Key signs of stress in the workplace – and an action plan to combat it

While minimising the risk of stress in the workplace is key, it’s crucial that if it is happening it is recognised, and that there is an actionable plan to follow. It’s important to talk to your employees and understand the different signs of stress and how they can be identified. This will have a positive impact on productivity and boost overall morale, leading to a collaborative culture where staff turnover is low.

Depending on the individual stress can show in a variety of ways, but some signs to look out for are:

  • A noticeable change of behaviour within the workplace

This can include changes to productivity and motivation, a seeming change of personality, such as becoming quieter and withdrawn, or the opposite – becoming quick to irritate or embroiled in conflict.

  • Absenteeism

This could be through sick days or working minimal hours where they may have usually worked more. Be wary of its opposite however – a sudden switch to working longer hours could also be a sign of workplace stress, perhaps through anxiety over performance or escaping personal problems at home.

Fostering a positive culture that supports mental health and wellbeing is crucial. Employees should know their progress won’t be hampered if they show signs of needing support, and that they will get said support when seeking it. To help prevent stress and burnout in your workforce there are a number of methods that can be put in place, such as:

  • Ensuring workloads are well organised and managed, throughout the organisation. Arrange regular appraisals to track this.
  • Creating a ‘well-being’ infrastructure to deal with mental health in the workplace. This should include clear access to support for those who need it, and could include:
    • in-house counselling function and clear pathways to access it
    • mentor scheme
    • regular (anonymous) mental health and well-being surveys within the workplace.
  • Offer stress/mental well-being training for managers.
  • Create a risk assessment for stress potential across the organisation.

How Foundation Recruitment can help

The commercial real estate and placemaking UK sectors have their unique pressures, which our consultants have knowledge of, both from an employee and employer perspective. This enables us to help address the potential of stress when it comes to recruiting for new or replacement hires – such as spotting the potential for heavy workloads, poor management style or issues with corporate culture.

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