Eight essential ways to beat work-related stress
With stress symptoms forcing 90% of the UK’s IT staff to consider changing jobs, we show how employers and employees can work together to tackle this demoralising problem
A startling 90% of employees in the UK IT sector are considering changing jobs because of stress, according to the latest IT Admin Stress Survey from network security specialists GFI Software. Published during National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week, the findings show a 22% rise in the number of IT professionals who are thinking of jumping ship compared to last year.
With computer technology forming a vital part of almost every business in the UK, the survey’s results should raise alarm among managers at all levels – and the IT industry is not alone. Last month, it emerged that one third of UK GPs are planning to retire in the next five years so they can escape high levels of stress in the health service.
Clearly, the UK’s record on stress hasn’t moved far from 2011 and 2012, when 428,000 people told the Health and Safety Executive that they were experiencing levels of workplace stress that were making them ill. Speaking to Insights today, workplace wellbeing expert Professor Sir Cary Cooper identified ways that employers and staff can work together on the process of stress management. Here are his thoughts, and those from some other, key pieces of research on the subject:
1. Manage by praise and reward – not negativity
“Most managers manage by negative feedback,” Cooper said, “but people like to be told when they have done a good job. In Anglo-American culture, we’re very bad at doing that, but it’s the same as effective parenting: if you ignore the positives in a child’s development, then you’re not an effective parent. Constructive, positive feedback releases the kind of adrenalin that combats stress. We’re not going to get ahead on tackling stress if we don’t start getting more positive.”
2. Give your employees autonomy and control
Cooper pointed out that there are “hundreds” of studies showing that the less control employees have, and the more micromanaged they are, the more likely it is they’re going to get ill. “That applies to anything in life,” he went on. “If you have the control you need to get out of a bad situation, that will make you feel good. So delegate – and trust your employees to know what they’re doing while they take the load off you.”
3. Put an emphasis on work-life balance
“Ensure your employees don’t consistently work long hours,” Cooper said, “and are able to spend enough time with their families.“
4. Develop a personal relationship with your line manager
“This is beneficial for both the employer and the employee,” Cooper explained. “You’re in a job primarily to meet social needs, and the experience of work is also social – otherwise, you might as well work from home, right? So do the best you can to form a personal relationship with your line manager so that you understand each other’s family lives and backgrounds. When I worked with CMI on their Management 2020 report, we asked managers that if they could only pick one trait they would most like their superior to have, what would it be? The number one answer was soft skills. A good, socially aware manager should have them in place.”
5. Create a caring environment
As explained in CMI’s recent report The MoralDNA of Performance, to raise levels of employee satisfaction managers should be actively involved in ethics of care – particularly in terms of appreciating the personal and professional impact their decisions are likely to have on staff, and ensuring that employees understand their value to the organisation. Creating a caring, nurturing environment can also help to improve recruitment experiences and employee engagement.
6. Instil a sense of purpose
The CMI report also cited research showing that individuals thrive when their goals and those of the organisation are intertwined. As Professor Raj Sisodia – co-author of Firms of Endearment – was quoted in the report as saying, “Work can be a great source of joy and satisfaction if you are doing something that aligns with who you are and that relates to a purpose that is beyond yourself.”
7. Plan stress out of the system
Dasha Amrom, founder and managing director of Career Coaching Ventures, told the Guardian that managers should help workers compile coordinated schedules of how to tackle each task, with the aim of reducing stress. “You should then keep your project plan or task list under regular review to stay on top of your work,” he advised, “and plan for contingencies in case of delays. Also schedule regular meetings with managers and colleagues to update them on progress and alert them in case of any unexpected setbacks.”
8. Help ill staffers back to work
Stress is one of the most common causes of staff sickness and absence. In the NHS, for example, more than 41,000 staff needed time off work to deal with stress last year – almost double the amount recorded for 2010. But some of the most optimistic recent research on stress shows that return-to-work interviews are proving successful for managers who have attempted to bring stricken employees back into the fold.