Amanda Pearce-Burton, Managing Director of Formation Training and Development, offers some stress-busting tips.
It is the cause of six million days of sick leave a year and can cost employers up to £370m per year and we are not talking about unauthorised duvet days.
Stress has not only been linked with serious illnesses such as heart disease but has led to employers being forced to make large compensation payments for neglecting stress in employees. But, what exactly constitutes stress? What are we doing to tackle the issue? Do organisations have the correct procedures in place to deal with stress in the workplace?
The reality is that we spend around 25% of our adult lives working, so knowing the answers to such questions is essential both for our sanity and the sake of the companies we work for.
We have all had days when we can’t face going into work or feel swamped by the ever-bulging in tray. Some external pressures can be a positive factor, helping us to be more productive. There are even those who thrive under pressure. However, excessive and prolonged stress can take its toll, producing a range of physical and emotional health problems which have come to be grouped as ‘work related stress’.
The majority of work related stress is related to management of work, relationships at work, organisational set-up and whether you feel in control of your work. Some of the possible triggers include; excessive time pressures, inflexible working hours, inadequate training and possibilities for learning new skills, organisational confusion and generally operating a poor work/life balance.
Symptoms are varied, ranging from headaches and muscle tension to a lowered immune system, difficulty sleeping and blurred vision. If you have ever suffered from sweating palms, a raised heart rate or the general feeling that you can’t cope, chances are you may have suffered from the phenomenon that is now affecting more than 53% of the working population.
So, what should employers do to ensure the situation does not escalate? According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employers should be providing employees with adequate and achievable demands in relation to the agreed hours of work.
Employees should be encouraged to develop new skills to help them undertake new and challenging pieces of work. The organisation should be one that encourages employees to develop their skills and has policies and procedures in place to adequately support employees. Roles, relationships and organisational change must also be carefully considered.
My top five tips for avoiding personal stress include:
- Ensuring that the job is right for you: does it match your personality/expertise and your personal circumstances? The key is working towards an effective work life balance. Not everyone wants the same ratio of work:home life. This is something that needs to be pro-actively considered rather than just left to chance.
- Prioritise your work load: always keep perspective, if you have a heavy workload, prioritise by making a list looking at what needs immediate attention. Working through the list and ticking off completed projects can be a great stress reliever.
- Know your limitations. It is ok to say ‘no’ when it’s appropriate. Over committing yourself will put you under unnecessary pressure.
- Recognise what is actually under your control. Don’t try to influence something that you cannot change. This often leads to unnecessary worry and stress in areas that cannot be influenced.
- Talk to people! Ask for support or training if you are struggling with a particular project or piece of work, or feel overwhelmed. Support from colleagues or appropriate training can instill you with confidence and will go some way towards de-stressing you.
Although we are a long way from eradicating stress, it would seem that employers are doing more to tackle it. According to research released on National Stress Awareness Day, 76% of IOD members say they have increased training and support to deal with the problem of stress at work. To help combat the issue, many companies are now adopting more flexible working styles and are giving their staff a more manageable workload, regular appraisals, increased responsibility all of which is changing the way they communicate with staff.
At the end of the day, stress should not be part of a job to the extent that it causes illness. Stress is an inevitable but complex part of our working lives, we all need pressures and challenges but have the capacity to be overwhelmed by work-related stress. The key seems to be ‘management’ on both sides for the employer and the employee.