How managers can help combat workplace stress

10 January 2018 -

Workplace StressMental health problems are on the rise, here’s how to deal with it in your workforce

Guest blogger Jo Sutherland

Go to any conference and ‘workplace wellbeing’ will no doubt be high up on the agenda – and thank goodness, because research states there’s a new diagnosis of work-related stress, depression or anxiety every two minutes, costing UK businesses 45 million working days a year.

According to the CIPD Absence Management survey, over two fifths of organisations have seen an increase in reported mental health problems. This, however, doesn’t account for those that don’t speak up.

A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that 28 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women with mental health problems admitted they had not sought any help. It’s important, then, that managers understand the signs and establish the support networks necessary to ensure that nobody feels they have to suffer in silence.

Last year, Symposium hosted the Workplace Wellness & Stress Forum 2017, back for its twelfth year, to help business leaders step up and tackle the greatest inhibitor of growth, innovation and creativity – stress.

Forum host Neil Shah, chief de-stressing officer of The Stress Management Society, defines stress as “where demand placed on an individual exceeds their resources”.

Think of a bridge. A bridge can only hold so much weight before it buckles and breaks. You have to either alleviate the load – or reinforce the structure so it doesn’t collapse. The same can be said for people. If you don’t ease the pressure or provide support to help them bear that weight, then they won’t cope.

Wellbeing should not be an afterthought

Leading facilities management firm Servest places its 20,000+ employees at the heart of the business. For the facilities management service provider’s management team, wellbeing isn’t an afterthought; it’s an essential part of the people services offering.

Having been promoted from Group chief people officer to CEO UK last month, C-J Green is encouraging business leaders to assess their wellbeing strategies moving forward into 2018.

“We are all prone to stress from time to time,” said Green, “but it can be difficult to spot in others, because people handle it differently. The best way to identify that someone is struggling is by talking to them.

“Managers can help alleviate workplace worries by creating supportive environments, with open lines of communication. Sometimes the smallest acts, such as asking someone how they are, can make the biggest impact.”

For Melanie Huke, wellbeing programme manager at Google, “wellbeing means something different to everyone” but “empowering people and giving them the opportunity to thrive is probably one of the most important things you can do”.

Building a wellbeing strategy

Forum host Shah agreed. He bases a successful wellbeing strategy on seven Es:

Engage: Creating a work environment that is a safe and inspiring place to be. Part of this obviously comes down to the leadership framework in place.

Exemplify: Leading from the top and “being the change you want to see in your organisation.”

Empathy: Knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy is crucial; as is showing you care.

Empower: Does your management style allow people to take responsibility for their experience? Are they empowered to work in a way that will bring out their best ‘work self’? If not, you might be inadvertently limiting their potential.

Encourage: Praising people for a job well done is one thing; but giving them a voice and encouraging them to use it is another.

Embed: Maintaining the M25 is an ongoing venture. Just because someone’s engaged one week, doesn’t mean they’ll be engaged for the rest of the year. Ensure you have continuous conversations to drive a healthy culture.

Evaluate: How do you know your approach is working?

To build a case for change, it’s vital that the insight gleaned from conversations, surveys and observations paints a real picture of the employee experience and how the physical environment may be impacting it.

Having surveyed more than a quarter of a million employees worldwide, Leesman have found only 57 per cent agree their workspace enables them to work productively, and only half agree that their office is a place they’re proud to bring visitors to.

Imagine the impact that would have on one’s wellbeing; knowing that you’re about to commute to a place of work that doesn’t support you in your day-to-day role, or inspire any sense of pride.

By facilitating direct engagement with employees, organisations can begin to create compassionate, caring and inspiring environments. Those that achieve this are likely to experience fewer absences, higher engagement and less burnout.

“Talking openly about mental wellbeing can be difficult but it’s a necessary, worthwhile conversation and senior buy-in is critical,” said Servest’s Green. “If leaders are not seen to be embracing health and wellbeing then it’s almost impossible to set a behavioural precedent and overcome any underlying stigma.

“Creating, delivering and managing workplaces that address wellbeing can result in happier and healthier employees, whom will in turn offer organisations longevity, loyalty and productive effort.”

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