Stress Awareness Month: How to Reduce Stress at Work
12th April 2022
Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for stress. Each year comes with a new theme and in 2022, the focus is on community.
A lack of support can cause loneliness and isolation, which in turn lowers people’s wellbeing, impacts mental health and can lead to mental illness. Creating a community-based culture at work is a great way to help employees feel supported and listened-to.
Last year, there were an estimated 822,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Providing semi-regular training and counselling can help HR teams manage stress levels within their business to improve performance and job satisfaction.
Continue reading to find out what stress looks like in the workplace and how to engage with employees so that their mental and physical wellbeing is looked after — especially when stress begins to build.
What causes stress?
Stress is usually a reaction to mental or emotional pressure. It’s often related to a feeling of loss of control over something, but sometimes there’s no obvious cause.
The main causes of work-related stress are:
- Workloads that are either too heavy, constantly changing or poorly managed.
- Tight and unrealistic deadlines.
- Unclear expectations, coming from a lack of communication.
- Unclear roles and responsibilities, meaning people who aren’t necessarily qualified for certain projects are being put into roles they don’t have the experience to fulfil.
- Lack of managerial support.
- Organisational changes and job uncertainty that comes with it.
What does stress look like?
Stress can seep from personal life into work life easily. Continue reading to find out how to spot signs of stress at work both in behaviour and performance.
Behavioural or characteristic red flags
Changes in behaviour can be difficult to spot if you’re not actively engaging with or monitoring employee wellbeing. Stress can generally manifest in the following ways:
- Tiredness, or appearing drawn and exhausted (often this can be a result of stress leading to anxiety, which leads to lack of sleep).
- Noticeable mood changes, which can lead to conflict.
- Disinterest in socialising with colleagues.
- Health issues can be sparked by stress. Look for evidence of this through requesting time out for regular doctors appointments or requesting more at-home working hours.
- Obvious nervousness, maybe fidgeting or being distracted.
- Getting more emotional than normal.
- Not eating or not taking breaks.
- Speaking negatively or having a ‘glass half empty’ attitude.
Performance red flags
Changes in performance are often gradual, but can be monitored through monthly or bi-monthly performance reviews. Making an agenda for each meeting will help HR and management teams focus on specific aspects of an employee’s work, and offer advice for when workloads may seem too much.
Some employees can hide their stress well on the outside, but it will often show in their work. These are the key signs of worsening performance:
- Disengagement in brainstorming sessions or teamwork exercises.
- Unusually negative client or customer feedback.
- Quality of work reduces and deadlines are missed.
- Quicker to give up on certain projects.
- Not offering to take on more work or help others with their workloads.
Results of stress at work
Risk of burnout
Burnout is a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is job-related. Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands.
2022 has already seen 59% of working people reporting feeling symptoms of burnout compared to 52% in 2021. Only 1 in 5 people tend to take time off from work to manage their symptoms of stress and burnout, meaning symptoms only worsen.
It’s important that HR teams make themselves familiar with symptoms of burnout. Spotting early signs means you can help employees focus on recuperating — especially when they might not see it themselves yet.
- Prolonged stress
- Work-related anxiety
- Lack of motivation
Negative mental health
When stress becomes overwhelming and prolonged, the risks for mental health issues and medical problems increase. Long-term stress increases the risk of developing anxiety and depression, sleep problems, pain, and muscle tension.
You can aid employee mental health by offering flexible working throughout the day — if they’re feeling overloaded after a busy morning, offer a 2-hour lunch break and allow them to make the time up at the end of the day.
Flexibility in start times helps, too. Letting an employee work 8-4 or 10-6 could improve their work-life balance and make it easier for them to switch off between shifts.
Lowered wellbeing and happiness
Employees that are under stress for extended periods of time are more likely to experience physical symptoms such as headaches, an upset stomach, heightened worry, and problems with sleep. Regular illness will take a toll on their overall wellbeing, potentially having negative effects on motivation and quality of work.
A GOV.uk study found that workplace wellbeing and job performance are directly correlated. When wellbeing is looked after, employees experience:
- Greater levels of energy
- Higher output
- Fewer sick days
- Increased creativity and problem-solving
- A more positive attitude to work
How can HR and management teams look after the wellbeing of their employees?
Wellbeing days are excess annual leave days that an employee can use to recharge themselves and, in theory, put them in the right headspace for work.
The key difference between designated wellbeing days and ordinary annual leave is that employees don’t have to provide notice or schedule them in their work diary — if a member of your team wakes up one morning feeling unmotivated, unproductive or in a low mood, they can take a day to recuperate.
Reduced job satisfaction
Job satisfaction is achieved when employees feel heard, respected and celebrated at work. Working in a supportive and encouraging workplace is a great motivator and when people feel motivated, they produce better work and experience a greater sense of job satisfaction.
Stress, as we have discussed, takes a negative impact on employee mindset and so when stress isn’t managed, employees can develop low job satisfaction, being unhappier and more unproductive in their roles.
HR and management teams can improve job satisfaction by celebrating both individual and team success and encouraging employees to share ideas about how to improve their workplace. Some ways to do this are:
- Feedback sessions
- Email surveys
- Employee forums
- Instant messaging tools with channels specifically dedicated to sharing achievements
Nobody wants to go to bed dreading the next day at work. But it’s easy to feel that way when pressure and stress are part of the workload. As a result, employees experiencing stress are 10-14% more likely to hold intentions to quit or be absent.
Absenteeism can be avoided by:
- Providing support both through wellbeing apps and internal counselling sessions. Even something as simple as asking how your employees are feeling day-to-day will show that you care.
- Reduce workplace stress by managing workloads.
- Provide feedback that doesn’t just focus on the bad — cushion negative feedback with positive so that employees can be proactive in rectifying any issues.
- Reward good attendance.
Loss of talented employees
In 2021, 29% of UK workers considered quitting their jobs because of poor mental health, despite national job insecurity caused by the pandemic.
It’s also been documented that workers are 19% more likely to quit a position because of stress.
For the sake of your employees and your company, think about how you can help employees reduce their work-related stress. Keeping teams engaged and happy at work means making an effort to create a positive environment. When the workplace is an enjoyable place to be, employees are less likely to dread coming into work or quitting.
Improve the work environment by:
- Setting realistic job expectations: Include employees in the goal-setting process so that they know workload will be tailored to what they can manage day-to-day.
- Encouraging communication: Make sure employees feel comfortable telling you when they feel overwhelmed.
- Make safety a priority: Unsafe and unhealthy working conditions can cause stress. Make sure your office is HSE-compliant by regularly checking ventilation, temperature and natural light levels in communal spaces.
- Add plants to office space and desks: A recent study in Japan found that there was a significant decrease in the stress of employees with small plants on their desks. Pulse rates were lower after people took a 3-minute break to care for their plants when they felt fatigued.
The ripple effect
Stress in individuals can seep into the wider team and interrupt the productivity and happiness of an entire workforce. For example, too much stress can cause arguments or irritability, which can lead to breakdown of projects. Some ways to avoid this include:
- Hiring enough members of staff.
- Checking in with how employees are feeling.
- Asking for feedback and new ideas on how to better the work environment.
- Balancing workload between employees.
- Managing customer/client expectations.
- Creating reward systems.
Continue reading to find out how employees can reduce stress in their daily lives, and 5 ways HR and management teams can help reduce it at work.
6 ways to reduce stress day-to-day
Some employees may not want to admit they’re feeling stressed, or view asking for help as an admission of defeat. HR can subtly share stress management tips through newsletters, weekly emails, in meetings and group chats.
Here are a few tips for how employees can manage their stress independently.
1. Listen to music
Studies say that listening to our favourite songs can help reduce stress by 75%. Playing an instrument also helps take our mind off things by refocusing bad energy into something more positive and enjoyable. The scientists say that music reduces the output of the stress hormone cortisol, so as a person enjoys the music, their heartbeat will slow to a normal rate, letting them relax.
2. Try breathing exercises
Deep breathing techniques help counteract the increased heart rate that comes with stress. By summoning the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘rest-and-digest’ system, deep breathing stimulates relaxation to return everything to normal.
Other breathing practices like meditation, acupuncture and massage therapy can also help. Put simply: the more oxygen you take in, the easier it is for your heart rate to slow, which in turn gives your mind the space to refocus.
3. Engage in regular light exercise
Physical activity produces endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improves the ability to sleep, which can in turn reduce stress.
Exercise also strengthens the immune system, meaning illness, exhaustion and low moods are easier to overcome.
4. Eat healthily
A balanced diet provides the extra energy needed to cope with stressful events. Early research suggests that certain foods like polyunsaturated fats including omega-3 fats and vegetables may help to regulate cortisol levels.
5. Get enough sleep
Adequate sleep has been proven to drastically reduce feelings of anxiety by improving your ability to process stress and react in a strategic way.
Encouraging employees to log out and switch off as soon as the essential work for the day is done should give them time to eat and wind down in plenty of time for going to sleep.
6. Set personal and professional boundaries
Boundaries help establish connection among employees, allowing them to focus on their roles and respect those around them. A boundary of respect will enable people to speak up, share ideas and suggest creative solutions to problems without fear of dismissal or embarrassment.
7 ways to reduce stress in the workplace
1. Encourage physical wellness
Provide healthy food in vending machines, fruit tea alternatives at the coffee station, yoga or meditation sessions and fitness classes throughout the month, and encourage employees to walk at lunch or cycle/walk to work.
2. Encourage regular breaks
Studies show that a relaxing break can help to reset your mood, thereby promoting positive wellbeing and reducing stress. Breaks of about 5 minutes are recommended for every hour sat in front of a computer.
3. Don’t forget about your remote workers
Hosting online wellbeing sessions or conversations is a great way to show your at-home employees that you care about their wellbeing, even if you don’t see them in the office every day.
Isolation is a huge issue when working from home too, so make sure you drop a message or schedule in a regular call with remote teams to make sure they aren’t overwhelmed without anyone to speak to.
4. Allow flexible hours
Studies have revealed that since COVID, nearly 40% of people say that something as simple as finishing early on a Friday would help to reduce stress.
Flexible workplaces can help reduce the stress of navigating jam-packed schedules. Reducing the amount of time spent commuting, for example, lets employees work on projects during a time that best suits their lifestyle.
Want to learn more about flexibility at work? Read our article to find out if now is the time to embrace hybrid working.
5. Encourage social activities
Studies show that team building activities give employees better understanding of each other’s strengths, weaknesses and interests. When teams understand each other better, they’re more likely to know when and where to help colleagues when things get stressful. Positive contribution of all team members sets the tone for a positive work culture, too.
6. On-site or distance wellbeing counsellors
When conducted in a private and judgement-free environment, counselling can help employees understand the cause of their own stress, and find steps to manage and reduce it.
Providing the safe and confidential space for employees to air frustrations or share negative feelings will help them feel supported.
Sessions can also give them the tools they need to organise their grievances and present them to their seniors in a professional and focussed manner, asking for change without getting overwhelmed.
7. Communication is key
We’ve said it many times throughout this article, but the only way you’ll know how employees are feeling is if you ask. This Stress Awareness Month, make an effort to create an open and communicative environment that welcomes discourse between management and employees.
8 Stats to know
- 75% of British workers commonly experience work-related stress — an increase of 20% since 2018.
- 12.8 million working days are lost due to stress.
- Women are over 25% more likely to experience stress at work than men.
- 39% of UK adults say that lack of sleep and work worries are two of the primary causes of their stress.
- 23% of UK workers say that work in general makes them feel stressed.
- An American study found that 15% of workers will look for a new job if they feel pressure from their workload.
- Champion Health polled 2,200 UK employees and found that more than one quarter had experienced reduced motivation and productivity as a result of stress.
- 68% of people would prefer to talk to AI platforms over their manager about stress and anxiety at work.
Use digital tools to reduce stress during Stress Awareness Month and beyond
Acting early can reduce the impact of stress and make it easier to remove the causes.
Employee engagement platforms like Trickle can help you monitor the happiness of your team as they experience changing environments and workloads. Engaging with your teams will help create a working environment that is healthy, supportive and as stress-free as possible.
Here are a few Trickle features that can help:
- Activity feed — this is your place to have open and fun group conversations. This instant messaging tool gives everyone space to socialise and tune out of their work for 5 minutes.
- Fist Bump — this is a great way to give praise, to recognise someone for their efforts and encourage peer-to-peer support.
- Shout Abouts — these spread positivity and boost engagement by sharing important company news and celebrating achievements.
- MoodSense — this lets you gauge employee feelings in real-time, helping you identify signs of stress or overworking so that you can make edits to your employee’s workloads where relevant.
- Flares — these allow employees to anonymously flag any issues they’re experiencing in their work, from problems with schedules and productivity to highlighting collaboration and workflow issues.
- “How Was Your Day?” — this feature poses a simple question that when answered, gives HR an idea of how stressed or overworked an employee may be feeling. Asking your people how they are is the first step in making positive change that will benefit them long term.
Get a deeper understanding of how to look after stressed or burnt-out teams by reading our article on how to support and improve employee mental health.
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