How to reduce stress at work

Stress at work comes with high costs both to mental health and to organisations' bottom lines. Here's how to tackle it.

Reducing stress at work

Stress in the workplace is a growing problem, with an increasing number of people reporting high levels of stress and anxiety due to the demands and pressures of their jobs.

In fact, according to a study by Champion Health, as many as 76% of people experience high to moderate stress at work, with 56% experiencing at least mild symptoms of depression.

Stress at work can have significant consequences for both employees and businesses, leading to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and a higher risk of mental health issues. So it's vital for leaders and managers to do what they can to reduce stress in the workplace and create a low-stress environment for their employees.

In this blog, we'll take a closer look at work-related stress, including the top causes of stress at work, the importance of stress management in the workplace and practical steps that employers can take to help their employees manage stress and anxiety. By taking a proactive approach to managing work-related stress, businesses can improve employee well-being and create a more productive and positive workplace culture.

Top causes of stress at work

Top causes of stress at work

Stress in the workplace has many different roots. These are just some of the most common causes of stress at work:

Excessive workloads

According to the CIPD, the most common cause of stress at work is workload. Unrealistic deadlines, too much work to do and a lack of resources to complete the work all pile on the pressure. In 2022, Champion Health confirmed that 73% of people say workload is a cause of stress in the workplace.

No job security

Lack of job security is a growing cause of stress at work, particularly in the context of economic uncertainty and the cost of living crisis. When employees feel their jobs are insecure, they experience feelings of anxiety, fear and uncertainty about their future, affecting mental and physical health. A study by Champion Health reveals that 16% of people believe that job security is a cause of stress at work, highlighting the need for better communication and transparency between leaders, managers and employees.

Lack of autonomy

When people feel they have no say in their work or are unable to make decisions that affect their jobs, they may experience feelings of frustration, helplessness and even resentment. This lack of control can lead to increased stress levels, as employees may feel that their work is meaningless or that their efforts aren't being recognised. This can in turn lead to reduced motivation, lower job satisfaction and higher rates of absenteeism and staff turnover.

Poor management and leadership styles

Leaders and managers are big influences over the mental health and well-being of their teams – for good or ill. Both the CIPD and Champion Health identify management styles as a major contributor to stress in the workplace. Unrealistic expectations, poor communication and a lack of trust can all put pressure on teams. And when managers are overly controlling or critical, employees may lose faith in their own abilities, which can lead to a decline in motivation and productivity.

Relationships with coworkers

The power of work friendships can be hugely positive. But on the flipside, workplace politics can be poisonous, with 20% of employees citing their peers as a cause of stress at work. Cultivating a community of trust, support and equality is vital for a happy and productive workplace. Without it, leaders open the doors to workplace conflict, feelings of isolation and even bullying.

Lack of support

When workers feel they have no one to turn to for help or guidance, they may experience feelings of isolation, anxiety and uncertainty. This can be especially true in high-pressure work environments if employees are expected to perform at a high level without adequate support. Without training, feedback and mentoring, employees may struggle to meet expectations and achieve their goals, leading to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction. Over time, this can lead to burnout and a higher risk of physical and mental health issues.

Why stress management in the workplace is important

Stress at work isn't just a problem for employees. It can also have a significant impact on business success and the bottom line. In fact, according to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), work-related stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 54% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2018/2019, with an estimated cost to employers of USD 6.5 billion.

Creating a low-stress environment in the workplace, on the other hand, can benefit both employees and employers. When employees feel valued and supported, they're more likely to be engaged and productive, leading to higher levels of job satisfaction and motivation. This, in turn, can lead to reduced absenteeism and staff turnover. People are less likely to look for work elsewhere if they feel happy and fulfilled in their current role.

It's up to employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace, both physically and mentally. This includes taking steps to reduce the risk of stress in the workplace by, for example, carrying out risk assessments, monitoring employee experience, providing training and support, and promoting a positive workplace culture.

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How to deal with stress at work

How to deal with stress at work

Given the negative impacts of stress in the workplace, it's essential for leaders and managers to help employees manage stress and anxiety. Here are some practical strategies that managers can implement to reduce stress levels in the workplace:

Learn to recognise signs of stress

To alleviate workplace stress, you need to be able to identify it. Some common signs of stress include irritability, reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and changes in behaviour or mood. By recognising and responding to these signs early on, managers can take steps to support employees before stress levels escalate.

Offer flexible/remote working

Offering flexible or remote working arrangements can give employees more autonomy and a better work-life balance. Remote work can be especially helpful for people with anxiety or stress-related disorders, allowing them to work in a comfortable, familiar environment without the added stress of commuting or office politics. Plus, flexible working arrangements can help employees balance personal and professional commitments, reducing the likelihood of burnout and stress-related illness.

Communicate tasks clearly

Unclear or ambiguous instructions can create unnecessary stress for employees, leading to confusion, frustration and reduced productivity. To avoid this, managers should communicate tasks and expectations clearly, providing employees with clear instructions and deadlines. Regular check-ins and feedback can also help make sure that employees are on track and feel supported in their work.

Set clear objectives

Setting clear objectives and goals can help employees stay focused and motivated, reducing stress in the workplace. Managers can help to create a sense of structure and purpose by setting weekly work schedules that outline key objectives and priorities. This can help employees prioritise their workload and manage their time more effectively, reducing stress and increasing productivity.

Lead by example

Leaders and managers can have a significant impact on workplace stress levels by modelling healthy and balanced behaviour. Taking regular breaks, leaving work on time and prioritising self-care can help employees to feel they can do the same, creating a positive workplace culture that prioritises well-being and mental health.

Organise activities to boost team spirit

Organising team-building activities and social events can help to reduce stress in the workplace by creating a sense of camaraderie and support. Team activities can help employees to bond, build trust and strengthen relationships, reducing the likelihood of conflict and promoting a positive workplace culture. Plus, social events can be a welcome break from work-related stress, helping employees to recharge and return to work with renewed energy and focus.

Provide access to mental health resources

Promoting mental health apps, online counselling and other wellness tools can help employees to manage stress and anxiety. These tools can give access to support networks and professional counselling services, helping reduce the stigma associated with mental health. Promoting mental health resources will also help to show a business-wide commitment to employee well-being.

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