Helping staff manage stress at work

Many employees feel some sort of work-related stress at some point in their working lives, particularly when deadlines are looming. Generally, infrequent and short bouts of stress are manageable for most people. However, when stress becomes prolonged or more intense, it can start to cause physical and mental health issues.

Engaging with employees on a regular basis (e.g. by having regular reviews in order to discuss any on-going concerns) will allow employers/managers to keep up-to-date with how employees are feeling about their job role, the organisation as a whole, relationships with colleagues, personal issues, etc. It can also help employers understand the personalities of individuals, how they interact with each other, and how these factors are relevant to potential stressful situations.

Employers need to learn to recognise the signs that stress may be getting the better of an employee, for example:

  • They seem to have lost their enthusiasm for the job. Not all employees will be happy all the time, but it should be seen as a warning sign if somebody regularly has a negative attitude towards their work, colleagues, or the organisation as a whole.
  • They are working too hard. From an employer’s perspective it’s nice to see commitment from staff, but employees should not regularly be working overly long hours. If employees don’t seem to be able to manage their workload during normal working hours it may be that they are no longer working productively (perhaps due to stress), or their workload is simply too great. Either way, it’s up to employers to have dialogue with them to try to resolve the situation.
  • Relationships at work seem to be suffering. Interaction between colleagues won’t always be harmonious, but employers need to be aware of deterioration in relationships.

Awareness of stress, stress recognition and early identification is something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally, even to the best managers, so it’s important to seek guidance in this matter. Broaching the subject of stress with an employee who isn’t coping well can be a tricky matter for fear of causing offence or appearing to criticise.

However, employers have a general duty to ensure the health of their employees at work, which includes taking steps to ensure they don’t suffer stress in the workplace. This includes having open dialogue with employees and consulting with them about prospective changes to tackle problems. By calling the Health for Work Adviceline (0800 0 77 88 44) you can get access to expert advice to help you ascertain whether you have sufficient measures in place to prevent workplace stress – www.health4work.nhs.uk.

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