What should employers do to reduce the impact of stress at work?

It’s Stress Awareness Month and there’s a big focus on stress at work and how home stresses impact work, but what can be done to address them?

Woman looking stressed at her desk


It’s Stress Awareness Month and there has been a lot of focus on mental health in the last years, but do initiatives like free yoga sessions really help address stress? Not if they don’t address the causes of stress at work, I would argue. We live in very stressed times, however, and work is by no means the only cause of stress, but outside stress affects work. Whether it is financial stress, the stress of finding childcare [as well as paying for it], the threat of benefits sanctions, worries about health and the NHS, worries about the care sector generally and the implications for individuals, post-Covid mental health issues and much more most people are facing increased stress these days. And turbulence in the public sector generally – the nation’s backbone – is having an ongoing impact on parents, from teacher strikes to access to social care.

Some employers are attempting to address some of these issues, for instance, through providing one to one access to financial advice or boosting pay in recognition of the cost of living crisis. But many aren’t or can’t. Awareness of and understanding of the pressures employees may be facing outside of work is important, though. That means having processes in place whereby you can check in with employees regularly, supporting line managers, setting up employee resource groups to promote peer support as well as advise on policy, doing regular surveys to get a sense of how things are changing [and they often change rapidly these days] and so forth.

However, there are also stresses at work involving workload, most acutely in the NHS, and concerns about long-term security for many employers, for example, when it comes to staffing. At the heart of all of this is communication so that everyone understands what is going on and why. So often communication channels are poor at work. Even in the communications sector – and I have worked in many parts of it! People get left out of vital updates, for instance, if they work remotely or part time; people are unnecessarily riled because something is imposed from above with little explanation or consultation; meetings are booked which you can’t attend because no-one checked with you in advance, causing additional stress…

Workload is a huge issue, of course. In a fast-evolving technological world, it is often the case that more is added without anything being taken away and lack of staffing means many people are doing more than one person’s job. Again communication is key. Can the job be redesigned to take something away so there is less pressure on individuals? That involves conversations between line managers and staff, firstly making employees feel they can have those conversations without a detrimental impact on them. It also means senior managers having the time to think more strategically about the workforce and support their line managers. If it’s all hands on deck at certain times of the year are there ways of building in more opportunities for rest at other times of the year?

There are also specific policies that can help ease stress for those employees affected by specific issues, such as fertility, bereavement, menopause and so forth. Making it easy for people to talk about these at work, particularly with their line managers, helps ease some of the stress in addition to flexibility and specific policy packages. Underlying all of this is an empathetic and flexible culture, which promotes a sense of belonging for all employees. It’s not just a nice to have – it makes business sense as employers struggle to attract and retain staff.

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