Nearly half of employees in the UK have experienced workplace stress, low moods and anxiety, according to a survey by mental health charity Mind.
Verdict has compiled seven ways for organisations and individuals to combat stress in their places of work.
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1) Stress signs: target the issue
Stress can be a cause of mental health problems, therefore the first couple things to do would be to actually pinpoint the signs and what exactly is causing your stress levels to rocket.
The signs of stress include feeling a sense of dread, over-burdened, irritable, aggressive, impatient, anxious, uninterested in life and neglected. Regarding the cause of these feelings, it could be your intense workload, hours, or a lack of communication with colleagues and your manager regarding your tasks.
Mind’s survey found that 42% of all employees felt that their manager would be able to spot the signs they are struggling with poor mental health, while 21% stated that their current workload feels “unmanageable”.
Mind’s Head of Workplace Wellbeing Emma Mamo said: “Be realistic, you don’t have to be perfect all the time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get everything right all the time – we all make mistakes. If your workload is regularly spilling into your personal life, speak to your manager to see if you can jointly come up with solutions, such as delegating work to other members of staff.”
Understandably, a lot of employees will not seek help straightaway when dealing with high levels of stress, therefore organisations should have “routine checkpoints” to target this at an early stage, according to advice platform Safely Spoken.
Safely Spoken CEO Emma Makinson said: “The right way to manage this is to provide a nominated workplace stress coach or counsellor for each employee, whose responsibilities include maintaining monthly check-ins with the employee to discuss anything that they’re struggling with at work.
“This coach or counsellor should ideally be someone external, who employees can talk to in confidence, and who is not seen to be reporting back to the organisation. However, if organisations decide to train coaches and counsellors from within their own staff, it is essential that employees have someone to talk to who has no engagement with their day-to-day work.
“By far the most important thing that organisations can do to address workplace stress is ensure that they take employee concerns seriously. Some of it will be irresolvable: 42% of workplace stress is related to factors intrinsic to the job. However, wherever organisations can act, they must: the number one reason that employees don’t speak out is because they don’t trust their organisation to protect them.”
3) Leave work at work
While this is a lot easier said than done depending on your role, try and separate your work life from your personal life. Plan your evenings with activities you would like to do to take your mind off of your tasks instead of checking your work emails out of your contracted hours.
Mamo adds: “A good way to ensure you’re able to switch off from work is to take time at the end of your working day to reflect on everything you have achieved. You can also then refresh your task list for the next day so you can feel like you have wrapped up the working day sufficiently.”
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Research shows that nature can benefit mental wellbeing by improving your mood and reducing stress, for example, gardening, exercising or walking outside, as well as being around animals. Find a green area near your workplace for lunch and take in the surroundings.
Mind’s Ecomind scheme to introduce thousands of people to ecotherapy initiatives found that 69% of people involved experienced “significant increases” in wellbeing once the project had finished.
5) Avoiding staying in the office until 10pm
If possible, it is advised to avoid excessive working hours. While deadlines are important, you don’t want to overwork yourself and become intensely fatigued. This way, you can balance your work life more effectively and separate your work from your personal life even more.
Mamo said: “It might help get urgent work done in the short-term, but over long periods of time can leave you frazzled and reduce productivity, and could even lead to you becoming unwell and needing time off. Managers ought to set a good example by not working over their contracted hours unless it’s really necessary.”
6) Reporting systems
It is useful for organisations to have easy reporting systems that use “information escrows” to reduce any difficulty in logging problems. Information escrows enable employees to report an issue in confidence and have this reaffirmed by a trusted colleague, which is intended to increase willingness to take action and encourage support.
Makinson added: “If you leave workplace stress unchecked, you create a vicious cycle that creates more and more. Stress is the biggest cause of workplace conflict, including issues of bullying and harassment; in turn, workplace conflict is the largest preventable cause of workplace stress. One person’s stress can quickly bring a whole team to the edge.”
7) Communicating stress in the workplace
Mind’s survey also found that 84% of people would continue to go to work even when dealing with poor mental health, yet 58% would still go to work while experiencing physical health issues.
Stress Management Society CMO Louisa Valvano said: “Given the expectation of discrimination and even dismissal, many people with stress go to great lengths to prevent colleagues and managers knowing they are or have been ill.
“This attempt at concealment can make people reluctant to request time off for hospital or therapy sessions and reduce their chance of obtaining appropriate help from occupational health, counselling services or employees’ assistance programmes. Some people stop taking medication for fear that it will impair their work performance or that its effects might alert colleagues to their illness.”
The stress-control organisation encourages making stress a common topic of discussion within the workplace and having a quiet zone for employees to go to when they need to take some time out.