We may be officially out of recession, but the market is still tough, and many businesses are suffering from its consequences. We have seen redundancies across a range of sectors, and often companies have been forced to diversify into different areas to compete with rival firms. Changes such as these can create anxiety and be extremely stressful, not only in leadership roles but trickled down throughout the company.

As a result, stress and related mental illnesses such as depression are now among the most common reasons for absence from work. That’s according to an independent review for the Government carried out by Professor Dame Carol Black, Expert Adviser on Health at Work to The Department of Health. It’s clear that this calls for changes to be made when it comes to addressing the issue of stress in the workplace, and HR professionals have a vital role to play in this.

You may or may not be aware that today is National Stress Awareness Day, so what better time to highlight the importance? Now in its fourteenth year, the annual event is held to educate and celebrate helping people to beat stress. The theme for 2012 is ‘Defining Outcomes for Wellbeing at Work’, and it’s a great opportunity to kick start the awareness within your organisation.

We know that there’s often a stigma associated with stress-related illnesses, and many individuals can be reluctant to discuss it. So, it’s fundamental for you to show your employees that you are there to support them if they are struggling. Also, encourage your staff to recognise the early warning signs of stress, which can be physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, irritability, crying for no reason and low self esteem. And if they’re suffering, highlight the importance of opening up – seeking help is a strength rather than a weakness.

At a&dc, we also recognise the value in developing personal attributes to enable individuals to cope with challenges. Resilience is one such trait, with higher levels leading to positive consequences such as reduced stress, a constructive work attitude and improved job performance. In addition, we have found that there’s a relationship between engagement and five of our resilience scales: self belief, optimism, purposeful direction, challenge orientation and support seeking. This suggests that a resilient individual will be able to cope much more effectively as their role changes over time, improving their general wellbeing and happiness at work. In turn, this will improve their productivity, benefitting your business as a whole.

Resilience isn’t a fixed characteristic – it can be enhanced over time – and HR professionals have a responsibility to help to develop this quality in employees, sooner rather than later. This may be as part of the onboarding/graduate training programme for new recruits, and could involve workshops, mentoring programmes, feedback and coaching techniques, or a combination of methods. But it’s also important to include those already working for you – don’t assume that they already have high resilience.

Remember that there may be employees in your organisation that are suffering from stress in silence, so use National Stress Awareness Day to raise the issue. It’s better for everyone to tackle the problems before they get out of hand.

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