Healthcare managers and HR professionals are all too aware of the impact of stress in the workplace, especially for those that are under pressure from internal and external forces such as NHS workers. Line managers and HR invest a lot of resources into combatting stress and dealing with the fall out – namely poor performance and staff absences.

As we know, stress can manifest in all kinds of ways; from physical symptoms such as palpitations, headaches, sleep disturbances etc., to behavioural and emotional symptoms like alcohol dependency, aggression, anxiety and depression.

How we cope in stressful situations is also very individual, what one person finds stressful can be very different to another person’s experience.

Similarly, how individuals respond to help and support can be very personal. Some people will actively seek out help, others may be grateful when they’re offered it, whilst some people may ‘fight’ against it, denying that they’re stressed or insisting that they can manage it themselves.

This makes it difficult for managers and HR to:

  1. minimise stress factors as these can vary from person to person
  2. identify stressed workers as symptoms can be very diverse
  3. provide support for individual needs

Giving Staff The Tools To Manage Their Stress Levels

I know from my experience working with NHS Trusts that a lot of work is being done to minimise, measure and manage workplace stress. However, perhaps there is scope to give staff the tools to manage their stress levels for themselves?

By helping employees to ‘tune into’ their stress levels and provide them with options to ‘de-stress’, it may be possible to prevent stress levels escalating and impacting adversely on the employee and department.

Raising awareness of workplace stress and removing any stigma it may have, is a great step to take. Posters, email and social media campaigns can all help promote a progressive view of workplace stress and what employees should do if they think they’re stressed.

The NHS already has online quizzes to allow individuals to self-assess their mood and stress levels; there may be opportunities to promote these and other useful resources for coping with stress at work.

Often the advice given if someone is suffering from stress is to speak to a line manager, supervisor, Union Rep or the HR department. However, many people don’t want to, especially if they don’t think they’re stressed ‘enough’ to warrant intervention.

In these situations the employee may find that they can manage stress themselves, if they have the right options to de-stress. Exercise is great example with real stress-busting benefits. Providing staff with options to exercise – such as access to a gym, Cycle to Work Schemes, on-site exercise classes etc. – will also provide staff with a stress release and help them manage workplace stress better.

These kinds of measures also make employees feel more valued and that can have a positive impact on stress. We all cope with pressures better if we feel that our work is appreciated and our employer cares about our wellbeing.  Stress-busting strategies such as encouraging and facilitating exercise can not only reduce stress levels but also improve workplace satisfaction.