Stress is considered to be a normal part of our daily lives, but more often than not it can start to cause health problems whether physical (migraines, weight gain and cardiovascular disease) or mental (stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression).
A report into work-related stress found that there were 488,000 cases of work-related anxiety or depression in 2015/16, and 37% of those were caused by stress. This also means that 45% of working days that were lost in that year because of ill health were related to stress.
April is Stress Awareness Month, and given the rising prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace, it is down to managers and business owners to help relieve the pressure on their employees. This is not only beneficial for their mental health, but for the wider business as a whole.
With this in mind, CALLCARE has spoken to the experts to find out their opinions on the main causes of workplace stress and what business owners can do to help.
1. Create the perfect office environment
We all know that productivity comes from within, but our external surroundings can actually have a huge impact on how we feel. If we spend upwards of eight hours a day in an environment that makes us feel miserable, stressed and anxious, then this will have a disastrous knock-on effect on our mental health.
To help turn that around, here are a few top tips on how to use your office space to your advantage…
Natural sunlight is great for boosting your vitamin D, but did you know that it can also be important for your employees’ mental health. Research from workplace consultants Peldon Rose showed that a huge nine in ten people believe that natural light exposure at work is key to their mental health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, only 63% get regular exposure when sat at their desk.
Incorporating more natural light into the office is an easy way to help your staff feel better. Get those blinds open, even in winter, alter the seating arrangements if needed in order to get more people closer to the windows, and remove obstacles that could be stopping light from coming through.
Quiet working areas
Working in an open plan office certainly has its benefits; it encourages interaction where employees can ask for advice or help easily, and it also creates a sense of camaraderie. But being able to block out distractions and simply hammer through work is also incredibly beneficial. Research has shown that 76% of people believe private or quiet workspaces support their wellbeing, but only 40% have them available.
Not everyone will use a space like this, but it’s important that you have it available for moments when people need it most. You could designate a part of the office as the ‘quiet zone’, or kit out a disused meeting room with individual desks for isolated working; a little gesture like this can really go a long way.
Communal areas for socialising
Sometimes a kitchen is not enough; 75% of people believe that having a communal area for staff to socialise with one another is supportive to their mental health, but only 51% have them. Whilst this is a great start, there is plenty more that companies can be doing. Start by making your existing areas a little more homely and welcoming; comfy seating is a great start, with plenty of open space and natural light.
2. Ease the burden on your staff
Workload was stated to be the biggest cause of workplace stress. Under this umbrella term was tight deadlines, too much pressure and responsibility, and too much work on people’s plates in general. The pressure to succeed is enormous across all industries now. We are starting to live in a 24 hour working world where it is normal to be in the office well past the normal nine to five, and even to answer emails in the evening.
Encouraging your employees to speak freely to their line managers when they feel like the pressure is getting too much is an easy way to help them feel less stressed. If staff members are trying to juggle too many tasks, and this is taking a toll on both the quality and their mental health, outsourcing is a convenient solution.
Gemma Harding, Head of Corporate Services at CALLCARE, says that businesses shouldn’t shy away from getting outside help, for the sake of their staff and their finances:
“Outsourcing can help ensure that jobs are done properly, rather than half-heartedly which can sometimes happen if employees are stretched too thin. Not only does this allow employees to focus solely on their specialty and put all of their talents to good use, you are also taking the pressure off your staff and are doing more good for them than you think. Easing pressure and responsibility eases stress, which will lessen feelings of depression and anxiety.
“From your HR services and accounting, which can both be sent out to specialist companies, to sending your calls to a virtual receptionist or even getting a cloud storage company to keep your data safe. All sorts of services can be handled by professionals outside of your own payroll.”
3. Encourage staff to take a lunch break
We all know the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, but often this is the first thing to take a backseat when the stress levels in our lives start to rise. We rush out of the house in the morning without having a decent breakfast, buy a takeaway lunch to get back, and we’re too tired when we get home to cook anything healthy.
Not only can this have a negative impact on our general health, it can also take its toll on our mental health, and actually worsen our stress levels.
A report from the International Labour Office (ILO) found that the nutrition we take in, or in this case, don’t take it, can have a profound effect on our productivity levels…
- Adequate amounts of nourishment can boost productivity levels by a whopping 20%
- Low levels of iron in your system has been associated with feeling week, sluggish, and having a lack of coordination
- Hypoglycaemia, also known as low blood sugar, can be caused by skipping just one meal, and can reduce your attention span and slow your ability to process new information
- Poor nutrition has been tied to several different factors, including low morale, sickness and absences, and higher rates of accidents
Despite these rather alarming facts, how many of us have skipped breakfast or lunch, or cut a meal short in order to get back to our desks? According to research from Benenden, a huge number of us:
- 42% of 2,000 workers in the UK admitted to not taking their full hour lunch break
- Almost 60% admitted to taking less than 30 minutes
- One in four eat at their desks five times a week, with 40% citing “too much work” as their reason why
- Only a fifth take their full allocated lunch hour
Christine Bailey, Director of Advance Nutrition, believes that employers need to place a greater focus on good nutrition, for the sake of their employees and the wider business:
“In the current climate of job insecurity, redundancies, rising expenses and reduced spare income, it’s no wonder that workplace stress is at an all time high. With our 24/7 lifestyle, constant demands on our time, more and more employees are feeling the heightened pressure to perform in the workplace.
“Even modest changes, such as reducing the amount of sugar and caffeine, including more protein and slow releasing carbohydrates to balance blood sugar levels and increase nutrients, such as the B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C can make a dramatic difference to vitality.
“For the long term, employers should explore implementing nutritional training and support programmes in the workplace to help improve productivity and reduce absenteeism, which in turn affects attendance, retention and performance.”
4. Stay hydrated throughout the day
If good nutrition is the first thing to go when we get busy, then drinking water and staying hydrated is second on the list so it’s essential that your employees are replacing the water that is lost throughout the day.
While we all know that water is important to our ability to get through the day, just how essential it is to our ability to work and be productive can be underestimated. Studies have shown that being dehydrated for long periods of time can have a negative impact on our short-term memory, as well as inhibiting the way we process and interpret visual information.
Dr. Emma Derbyshire, public health nutritionist at The Natural Hydration Council gives her advice:
“If you or your employees aren’t feeling in the best of moods and are finding it difficult to concentrate, it could simply be a result of dehydration. In fact, research has shown that a reduction in hydration levels of even 2% body weight can have a negative effect on vigilance and energy levels.
“When you’re at work it’s important to remind your employees to start their day with a glass of water and to keep a bottle in their bag. This way they have something to sip throughout the day. Keeping foods with a high water content in the office – such as fruits and vegetables – is also an easy way to help your staff stay adequately hydrated.”
If your employees are busy, it can be difficult for them to remember to stay hydrated, so do your bit as business owners to keep them topped up. Here’s a few easy ways to do this…
- Install a water cooler in the office. There may be a kitchen down the hall but when things start to get hectic that walk gets longer and longer. Have a water cooler placed in each office as a quick and easy way to keep hydration levels up.
- Encourage your staff to start the day with a glass of water. Although coffee may be the go-to first drink of the day for the majority, caffeine provides only a short burst of energy before a drop later in the day.
- Make it a game. You can order water bottles with markers on the side – or you could always make your own – mark lines every 100 ml or so with a time next to them. The aim is to have drunk the allocated amount by the time, and this visual cue gives more of an incentive than you may think!
5. Invest in your management team
‘People leave managers. Not companies’.
There is an element of truth to this saying, especially as the research from the Health and Safety Executive named a lack of managerial support as another major cause of stress. The relationship between an employee and their line manager can make or break their time at that company.
David Cartwright, founder of online learning platform OBD Academy, gives his thoughts on how our leaders can affect our stress levels:
“Research tells us that a fully engaged workforce – one that feels valued, supported and challenged – creates a healthy workplace. But frequently the very leadership skills necessary to create this kind of optimal environment are sorely lacking in senior leaders. This can cause significant levels of stress throughout every level of an organisation.
“This is because individuals with technical skills are often promoted to senior and board roles not because their emotional intelligence gets a gold star, but because their technical skills get the tick in the promotion box.
“If we all feel happy and safe in the workplace because leaders have the skills and support to foster the emotional needs of their people, then staff absences and turnover would decrease, productivity would be at an all-time high and worrying trends such as presenteeism and burnout could become a thing of the past.
“However technically competent they may be, leaders also need to develop their soft skills in order to properly fulfil their roles and responsibilities. If a workforce is displaying high levels of stress, I say, look no further than their leader.”
You should never underestimate the importance of investing in the training of your staff, especially if they have an influence on junior members of the team. Whether it’s internal sessions from those who have more experience or funding a management course, it’ll be well worth the money when it also has a positive effect on your staff turnover rates.
6. Keep your employees safe
The final factor cited in the Health and Safety Executive report was violence, threats or bullying. Although this may seem to be something that only appears in news reports, it’s a very real problem that affects employees across the country.
Those that are on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour may be afraid to come forward, which leads those in charge to believe that there is no problem. Therefore the processes in place aren’t tested, reviewed and altered. If encountering this behaviour wasn’t stressful enough, it can no doubt have knock-on effects into their personal life; they may dread coming into work and be unable to concentrate on tasks.
To tackle this effectively, managers and senior team members must ensure that the policies in place for handling these situations are fit for purpose, that staff know they exist and that they are familiar with them. Managers should be trained to spot problems early on so that they can be dealt with quickly in order to minimise stress and disruption.
“Workplace bullying is often a factor in work-related stress cases,” said Clare Lassiter of Pure Human Resources. “Employers are well-advised to promote a culture where staff feel able to speak up against bullying. This can be facilitated by ensuring that the organisation has a policy on bullying and harassment that includes clear definitions of what bullying is, arrange training for managers on the topic, takes any bullying cases which arise seriously, and deals with them swiftly and confidently.”
What have you done to help reduce stress in your workplace? This Stress Awareness Month, make the effort to help your employees towards better mental health; your staff and business will thank you for it!
Can we help with that? Get in touch with us today for your complimentary consultation, and we can help you ease the pressure on your staff by providing an effective outsourced support network.