Workplace stress is a major headache for those in HR and Health & Wellbeing roles. It’s believed to account for over 30 per cent of sickness absence in the NHS. Unfortunately, stress comes with the job, work can often be physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding, but also because of the immense workload pressures everyone is under.

Without a magic wand to reduce waiting lists, patient demand, performance targets and pump more investment into the NHS; what can you do to reduce stress at work for the staff you’re responsible for?

One recognised method of reducing stress is to implement health and wellbeing initiatives that encourage staff to lead healthier lives. While stress affects your health adversely, healthier people cope with stress better. Therefore, healthier staff are less stressed.

Engaging staff with the right initiatives

Most people would agree that they would like to live healthier lives. But finding the time to exercise, eat healthy food, relax and sleep well is no easy thing. The environment many healthcare employees work in is not conducive to keeping fit either.

A key target of the Health & Wellbeing CQUIN is to “improve the range of support across musculoskeletal, mental health and physical activities” for healthcare staff. Employer-led schemes are part of this, particularly those that make it easier for employees to build physical activity into their working day, and take better care of their mental health.

There are numerous schemes available, like the ever popular Cycle to Work Scheme that encourages staff to exercise to and from work by cycling, and Gym Memberships schemes that discount the cost of membership. Also consider how other factors alongside fitness could be affecting employees’ wellbeing and health. Financial pressures create stress and this can be exacerbated when combined with a stressful workplace. According to a report by Neyber, 68% of NHS staff are affected by financial stress. Offering access to fairer finance could be a significant way of reducing stress, especially in a sector that has seen little in the way of substantial pay rises in recent years. 

Once you have identified the right schemes to implement, you need to get everyone excited about them.

Health and wellbeing champions

A very effective way of doing this is to recruit health and wellbeing champions from the workforce. These individuals are tasked with not only participating in the scheme, and reaping the rewards of better health and less stress, but also promoting the scheme to their teams.

Not only that, if your NHS Trust reaches its CQUIN target, they’ll have helped the Trust achieve the ‘improvement of health and wellbeing of NHS staff’ indicator, and in turn, earn them a reward of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

NHS Trusts who’ve used this approach in the past have recruited champions at employee benefits promo events, for example a Bikes for Staff roadshow hosted by a bike retailer like Evans Cycles. They’ve identified employees who are committed to using the scheme and understand the benefits for their health and wellbeing. These employees become role models for other staff and are asked to share promotional materials about the scheme at regular intervals.

Employee benefit providers like ourselves offer Trusts free marketing materials to promote their schemes, such as E-magazines, posters and flyers. Health and wellbeing champions share this material via email, putting it up on noticeboards, and speaking about it at team meetings.

Because the champions work alongside other staff they have a much better idea of what will benefit them, and the reasons someone may be interested in a scheme. Furthermore, if as result of using the scheme they feel less stressed, their colleagues will be the first to know.