Of course, some stress in the workplace can be considered as ‘normal’. This is until the stress becomes excessive, interfering with your productivity and impacting on your physical and mental health. An individual's ability to deal with this, differentiates between success and failure; the overall ability of a company to reduce and manage the stress in its environment can hugely impact its productivity and ultimately, its bottom line.
Recognising excess stress in the workplace
It's not always easy to spot who's stressed and who isn't. Some people are very outwardly symtomatic. That is, they display very obvious signs that they're suffering from high stress levels. Others, however, are more withdrawn or exhibit their signs internally.
That said, you and your employees can help recognise excessive job and workplace stress in themselves and others by looking out for some of these signs and symptoms:
- Muscle tension
- Feeling anxious, irritable, depressed
- Stomach problems
- Problems sleeping
- Apathy, loss of interest in work
How stress affects your business
Apart from the health problems stress causes an individual, if you find that there are areas of high stress levels within your workplace it can lead to a number of problems that affect your business and employees in numerous ways:
- Poor decision making
- Poor employee/workplace relations
- Increased sickness and absence
- An increase in mistakes, potentially leading to more complaints
- High staff turnover
How can you assess current stress levels?
Below is a guide to the six key areas of the workplace which should be monitored in order to assess the levels of stress.
When assessing the levels of stress is it is important to monitor the demands of your workplace. These issues include employee workloads, work patterns and work environments.
The control that a person has in the way they work is a vital area when monitoring the levels of stress. If the control is very little, it is highly likely to cause more stress. The more control of the workload, and room for autonomy, the better.
The more support received from colleagues and managers, the more under control an employee will feel within their job, encouraging them to do better. Support from sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation will also boost this.
Creating good relationships with other colleagues and your managers will reduce stress levels and make the workplace more enjoyable. There should be promoting of positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
The organisation must ensure that their employees don’t have conflicting roles and a clear understanding is shown for who’s role is what. With this in place, employees are likely to have more control of their workload and understand what's going on.
Change is inevitable in work as in life, but when changes are made within an organisation it is important that it is managed in the correct manor, this being that it is communicated with employees of what is different and how the change affect them. Large changes should be introduced in small increments and as smoothly as possible to ensure an easy transition.
How to address the root causes of stress
Here are three steps, full of positive tips and activities, that you can share with your employees to help them better address the root causes of the daily stresses and strains.
Step 1 - Prioritise and organise
Taking control of your workload and gaining the ability to effectively balance your time to maximise productivity is a huge component of reducing stress. This step is broken into two broad areas of time management and task management.
- Create a balanced schedule
Analyse your schedule, responsibilities and daily tasks. Try balance between work, family, social activities and down time.
- Don’t over commit yourself
Avoid arranging things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. If you have too much to do, decide which are the ‘should’ and the ‘must’ in completion. Put tasks which aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list, try to delegate them to someone else, or eliminate them completely.
- Try to leave earlier in the morning
Don’t add to your stress levels by running late, try leaving earlier, even if it is only 10 minutes, this will avoid the rush to your desk and begin your day with ease.
- Plan regular breaks
It is important that you take short breaks throughout the day, whether that is to take a walk or just sit back and clear your mind. You also should take a break from your work station for your lunch. Taking these breaks from your work will relax and recharge you and help you become more productive
- Prioritize tasks
Make a list of tasks you have to do and complete them in order of importance. If a task is quite unpleasant, get it over with early so the rest of your day will be more enjoyable as a result.
- Break projects into small steps
If a large project is quite overwhelming, make a step by step plan to focus on one of the tasks at a time
- Delegate responsibility
If other people can take care of a task then let them, you don’t have to do it all yourself. All of the unnecessary stress will be gone in the process.
- Be willing to comprise
If you ask someone to work differently to a task or change their behaviour for example, you need to be willing to do the same. If both of you can bend a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground which will reduce the levels of stress for everyone.
Step 2 - Improve emotional intelligence
Below are four major components of emotional intelligence in the workplace. These can be addressed and improved over time to reduce job stress.
Being able to recognise your emotions and their impact while using gut feelings to guide your decisions
Controlling your emotions and behaviour and adapt to the changing of circumstances
- Social awareness
The ability to sense, understand and react to others emotions and socially feel comfortable
- Relationship management
The ability to inspire, influence and connect to others and manage any conflict
Step 3 - Break bad habits
You can make your job a lot more stressful with negative thoughts and behaviour. Being able to get out of your bad habits will help reduce stress and make your work days more pleasant.
- Resist perfectionism – nothing is ever perfect. Trying to attain perfection will just add to any unnecessary stress to your work day. If you set an unrealistic goal or try completing too much, you’re setting yourself up to fall short.
- Clean up your act – give yourself extra time, set your clocks and watches fast, especially if you’re always running late. Make sure your desk is organised, throw away any clutter. Make to-do lists and cross off each item once they’re completed.
- Flip your negative thinking – If you see the downside to every situation then you will find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Begin trying to think positively about your work and reward yourself for small accomplishments.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable – there are many things within your workplace that are out of your control. Instead of stressing over them, focus on the things which you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems.
How to reduce stress and help boost employee happiness once it's taken hold
Sometimes it's difficult to eliminate all stress and even with the best will in the world, it's not always possible to keep to good habits all of the time, or manage a workload successfully 365 days of the year. But when people are suffering from high levels of workplace stress, having some methods of reducing and dissipating this are vital to keeing it in check.
Here are some of our suggestions.
- Take time away – try taking a quick break, move away from the cause of stress, whether that is to take a walk outside or meditating in a quiet room.
- Talk it over with someone – sharing your thoughts with someone that you trust can reduce stress.
- Connect with others at work – creating friendships with your co-workers can help buffer you from the negative effects of stress. It is important that you also offer support to them when they're in need.
- Look for humour in the situation – when it is used appropriately, humour is a good way to reduce stress in a workplace. If things begin to be taken seriously, find a way to lighten the mood, this being sharing a joke or funny story.
Keeping workplace stress levels low makes for happy employees and increased productivity
Hopefully this article has helped you identify common causes and signs of increasing stress levels at work and given you some good tips on how to tackle reduce them. Reduced stress levels are just one factor in creating a productive business, there are also some great apps you can use to increase low levels of productivity once you have sorted your workplace stresses out.
Not everything within a work environment can be controlled. However this doesn't mean that anyone is powerless. The solution to managing workplace stress isn’t to make huge organisational changes or start rethinking your career, but about concentrating on the one thing which is always within anyone's control, that is yourself...