We can all picture a co-worker who seems a likely candidate for a stress-related outburst. The signs of stress for these employees are obvious: impatience, frustration, loud complaining or chastisement and quickness to anger. However, stressed workers aren’t always so easy to spot. Reactions to stress are as individual as people themselves. That’s why a more proactive and systematic approach is needed to help stressed employees before they explode – causing irreparable harm to workplace morale, productivity, other workers and themselves.
EEF’s day-long stress management courses provide knowledge and skills for HR and H&S professionals and workplace managers deal with occupational stress, but here are a few tips to consider implementing right away:
Signs of workplace stress
When training managers on how to identify workplace stress, it isn’t enough to identify the obvious signs (such as bullying or aggressive behaviour). A more successful approach is to watch for a change in behaviour. For example, an outgoing individual who becomes withdrawn and quiet or a family oriented person who suddenly becomes a workaholic. Of course there are many possible reasons for such changes, but it is the responsibility of the manager to have their finger on the pulse of their team and help with potential issues. Managers should schedule regular reviews with their team members to maintain good working relationships, be regarded as approachable and be in a position to spot potential problems which could lead to stress as early as possible.
And instead of just relying on managers to spot problems, why not go straight to the employees themselves? Hertfordshire County Council did just that when they implemented a Workforce Resilience program, which included
Conducting a staff survey every two years (through their external health and safety/occupational health consultant), which includes questions that uncover the level of stress in the workplace
Analysing sickness absence and turnover data (since frequent work absences (in an individual or a team), which can sometimes be a symptom of a work environment with unmanaged stress)
A variety of communication methods to address the fact that a large number of staff do not have frequent access to computers (so a blurb in the company e-newsletter about stress management is not sufficient)
Employees who return to work after a prolonged absence are risk assessed and changes to their job or new training are implemented as needed
The County found that their program helped reduce work absences by about 10%.
Managing workplace stress
Recognising stress or potential causes of stress is important, but it is essential that timely and appropriate action is undertaken. Managers must be trained in their full responsibility within the organisation and how they are supported within this role.
An often overlooked cause of workplace stress is a lack of proper training for a particular (or new) aspect of a person’s job. Ensuring strategic training plans and ongoing professional development (with input from individual employees on their training plans) is one effective way to handle this issue.
Managers and HR and H&S professionals don’t need to feel alone when it comes to handling workplace stress. Many company health plans offer counselling, help lines and other benefits that specifically target stressed employees.
Also, health and safety consultants (such as EEF) can administer company-wide H&S risk assessments and conduct employee surveys with stress as a component. They can provide helpful policy and culture changes that can have dramatic effects on workplace stress and its symptoms.
And finally, consider attending one of EEF’s stress management courses in November, or scheduling custom training for your managers at your workplace.