Tide Ventures

Work-related stress is a major health and safety issue in any organization. Stress is not an illness,
however it can lead to mental and physical health issues if it becomes excessive.

In the past, reports and guidance on work-related stress concentrated on the legal Health and Safety
duty to assess risk and to take measures to control the risk. More recently there has been a greater
emphasis on effective management skills as the key to managing and preventing occupational stress.

While employees have a duty to look after their own health and safety at work, and to draw problems to
the attention of their managers at an early stage, managers should also be alert for signs of stress
among-st their staff.

‘Stress’ and ‘anxiety’ need to be regarded as normal responses to difficult situations. Stress is a
response to pressure. Anxiety is often a consequence of or manifestation of feeling stressed.
Acknowledging both allows us to ‘work with it’ and seek solutions.

We all need some form of pressure at work to motivate us but it is when pressure exceeds our normal
capacity to cope that detrimental stress can emerge.

“While the existence of workplace stress is acknowledged in most organizations, current efforts to
manage pressure and anxiety often place the burden of responsibility with the worker; overlooking the
actual cause of worker distress.”

According to McEwan, organizations should be developing workplace safety programs that support
genuine employee well being. These programs require businesses to look beyond the four walls of the
office to get a true understanding of the triggers for stress and anxiety before, during and after work.
“Workplace leaders must explore employee well being and wellness from three key perspectives;
financial, emotional and physical,” he added.

“Managing these three aspects of an employee’s well being requires a holistic view of where work and
home life intersect to identify triggers for stress and seek solutions to integrate the two more

How to Identify Stress in the workplace

Observe Yourself and Others

Managers too are not exempted from stress. The same pressures that are stressing your employees
might as well be stressing you. Identifying your own stressors can help you empathize with your

Stress, having a variety of causes, has a range of symptoms and shows up differently in different people.
By recognizing the different signs, it can be identified and individuals supported.

Often the most difficult part of the whole process is getting workers themselves to acknowledge that
there is a problem. For most individuals, acknowledging that they are stressed make them feel like the
weak member of the team. Like they are not up to the challenge. Managers need to make it clear that
speaking out and seeking for help and support is strength and not weakness.

Equally well, managers, employers and Board Directors will try to shy away from the concept, and say
that people are wimps, should leave their baggage at home and should pull themselves together.

There is still a great deal of ignorance about.

Are your employees happy? Not just the ones in your vicinity, but all of them? Are they stressed? Are
you stressed? Stress can not only knock out our motivation, but also our immune systems and our
loyalty. But how can you tell if employees are happy? It can be challenging (and frankly, stress-inducing)
to ask a direct report if they’re happy, so here are a few ways to read the temperature at your office:
Reducing stress levels for your workers’ health is not only important for their well being, it also leads to
improved organizational performance. So, in addition to your legal compliance obligations, there are
good reasons to carefully review potential stressors in your business and take steps to remove them.

1. Are there friendships?

Not everyone wants to chat casually with the boss, but look around to see if they chat casually with each
other. Is there laughter in the office? Do people linger in common spaces? Do people eat lunch
together? This type of social behavior can indicate a sense of belonging, and a level of comfort in the
workplace. Simply put, it means people are friends, and friendship in the office leads to better
discussions, shared ideas, and happier people. If this team dynamic is missing, it could mean your
employees are struggling to the point that they can’t connect with their colleagues.

2. Is productivity falling?

Happiness has been shown to directly affect productivity. A recent study shows that happy employees
are 12% more productive. The research team said, “Positive emotions appear to invigorate human
beings.” It seems obvious when you put it like that — an energized person does better work, and good
feelings energize us. When productivity is down, we can often miscategorize certain employees as
inefficient or lazy, but it may be a broader symptom of stress and unhappiness across the organization.

3. Is the turnover rate increasing?

This one might seem obvious, but it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s also worth tracking who is
leaving. Is one department experiencing a significant share of the turnover? Is there a higher turnover in
a particular demographic eg women? Investigating your turnover rate could be one key to solving some
workplace dissatisfaction

4. Is attendance low?

An increase in sick days could indicate something more long-lasting than a flu season. The Mayo Clinic
acknowledges stress’s role in a wide swath of health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease,
obesity and diabetes. Stress can disrupt sleep, cause gastrointestinal issues, increase headaches and
more. If your team is calling in sick more and more, it could be a sign the organization itself is under the

5. What are people saying?

All feedback gives us a chance to step back and review our strategies holistically. It’s also important to
take advantage of exit interviews. Give employees a chance to give honest feedback that could help the
company improve. Employees may be afraid to burn bridges by giving critical feedback, so make it clear
that all feedback is welcome and you’re looking to learn and grow.

The key indicators of stress may be;

Behavioral symptoms

  • Change in an employees normal behaviour – eg irritability/ withdrawn/unpredictability,
    uncharacteristic behaviours.
  • Change in their appearance.
  • Sudden Lack of concentration/commitment eg. Lateness, Absenteeism.
  • Becoming irritable/aggressive, withdrawn, showing signs of social isolation.
  • Showing signs of changes in eating habits, sleeping patterns consumption of alcohol, tobacco,
    tea/coffee, drugs, self-medication.
  • Becoming more difficult; in the workplace less co-operative, more accident prone, less sociable.
  • Becoming more difficult outside work, decrease in social ease inability to cope with family/domestic roles, neglect of personal appearance.
  • Absence rates should be checked and any patterns noted.
  • ‘Presenteeism’ (those attending at work but not working effectively) will also provide a valuable indicator of a developing problem.

Physiological Symptoms

  • Headaches, migraines, stomach disorders, raised blood pressure, changing sleep patterns, muscle
    spasms, back/shoulder/neck pain, a sense of feeling unwell, an unwillingness to work.
  • A growing feeling that the workplace is a 'threat', a place of anxiety, tension and the cause of irritability, low self-esteem, forgetfulness. An increase in worry about problems yet feeling powerless to change the situation. These changes can be felt in the individual who will not always be able toarticulate them, but observation of fellow workers of attention to conversation will allow the trade union representative to notice the signs and begin to identify workplace sickness.

Identifying the signs of stress at an early stage increases the possibility that action can be taken to deal
with the symptoms and the underlying causes, thus minimizing the risk to the individual’s health and
well-being and the effects on the department.

Common causes of workplace stress

There are several causes of work place stress some of which may be work-related or some originating
from an individual’s personal life. Either way it is a managers responsibility to identify stressors within
their department and put actions in place either departmental wide or by supporting an individual to
take action individually.

The management of stress should be integrated into everyday management and should form part of the
annual Health and Safety Audit.

Triggers which could cause stress;

  • Work overload
  • Boring/Repetitive duties,
  • Inadequate resources
  • Physical environment i.e. lighting, space, temperature, disruptions,
  • Psychological working environment: Verbal abuse, inappropriate behaviours, Working long hours – not taking lunch breaks/annual leave
  • Not being able to manage the demands of the job and life outside work,
  • Rigid working patterns and deadlines imposed with no autonomy or control allowed,
  • Conflicting work demands – from different managers or aspects of the job,
  • Two way conversation and discussion not actively encouraged to discuss issues,
  • Lack of clarity of job role – no job descriptions/objective setting,
  • Lack of information sharing/withholding information
  • Poor working relationships with managers/teams,
  • Combative or confrontational communication styles,
  • Not dealing with complaints/disputes at an early stage,
  • Fears about job security

Best management response that help avoid or relieve

  • 2 way communication.
  • clear vision, goals and expectations.
  • Considers group dynamics and physical working environment/positioning.
  • Identifying the need for additional resources.
  • Awareness of team members abilities and provide support and training where appropriate.
  • Monitoring workload and refusing additional work when the team are under pressure / setting
    realistic deadlines.
  • Following through problems on behalf of employees/foster a problem solving approach.
  • Developing action plans and plan/forecast workloads.
  • Review processes to identify improvements.
  • Promote task rotation/job enrichment.
  • Trusting employees to do their work/empowerment.
  • Steering employees in a direction rather than imposing.
  • Knows when to consult employees and when to make a decision.
  • Provides opportunity for employees to air views and holds regular meetings.
  • Encourages staff to develop and reviews development.
  • Keeps teams informed of what is happening with the department and the organisation.
  • Communicates clear goals and objectives.
  • Clearly defines roles, expectations and lines of communication.
  • Operating a no blame culture and problem solving approach and Admits when wrong,
  • Having an awareness of the employees pressures outside work.
  • Dealing with conflict at an early stage and flowing up on actions.
  • Having a positive approach and staying calm when under pressure, Keeps employees issues
    private and confidential, Treats all employees equally.

Dealing with individual cases of stress:

Stress should not be a reason for managers to be afraid to manage. If a stress related illness is reported
it should be treated as any other sickness absence. Below are some steps that should be taken.
Treat stressed employees in the same way as those with a physical health problem.

Discuss the issue with the member of staff and demonstrate that you are concerned with their health.
If work is affected, discuss the problems with Human Resources and explore the option of a referral to
Occupational Health.

Ask if there is anything as a manager you can do to help/try and identify the stressors.
Seek advice from the individual on any action that could be taken to alleviate the stress e.g. simple
modifications to work for a short period, increase communication etc.

Document agreed actions and actively follow up to ensure stress levels have been reduced.
Review and if necessary modify the work tasks and responsibilities of individuals who have had sickness
absence due to stress as a result of their work.

Be aware of the impact of stressed employees on other members of staff.

What to do when your employees are work stressed

If it sounds like your workforce might be a little more stressed than you’d previously thought, there are
a few quick steps you can take.

1. Ask them how they’re feeling

Depending on your company culture, it may be difficult to get honest feedback one-on-one. No one
wants to appear like they aren’t up to the challenge. So instead of putting the pressure on face to face,
implement a wellness and stress survey. This will allow you to get a read on stress at one point-in-time
so you can send the same survey at a later date to compare results.

2. Implement a gratitude program

If you don’t already use gratitude in the workplace, it might be time to start. A recent Glassdoor survey
found that 53% of employees would stay at their company longer if they felt more appreciation from
their boss. The survey also showed that 81% would work harder if their boss showed that their work was
appreciated. While this is one survey, research continues to suggest that gratitude makes us feel better.

A gratitude program could be as simple as encouraging managers to send ‘thank you’ emails for stand-
out performances once a week. You could also use a service like Bonuses that encourages employees to
express gratitude toward each other in the form of points that allows those employees to cash in on
rewards like gift cards to grocery stores and airlines.

The first skill we need to acknowledge is Empathy. It’s not rocket science. The Collins dictionary defines
this as ‘the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings’. We’re
often more aware than we think about how we can and do empathize with others.
At the end of the day, to spot signs of stress in others really requires us to be able to recognize them in
ourselves too. When we do spot signs of stress in others, it's important to remember there is a solution.

Workplace counselors are skilled at helping you identify stress triggers and exploring solutions to
reduce these causes or helping you become more resilient with increased coping skills.

Key factors that can improve your organization overall when dealing with work-related stress include:

  • Being genuinely interested in your employees well being not just as a policy issue but as a caring
  • Having clear communication and consultation regarding risk management of stress;
  • Ensuring that managers are committed to dealing with work-related stress; and
  • Ensuring all workers participate in stress management activities, including:
  • Providing effective feedback;
  • Undertaking planning and risk assessment
  • Implementing control options.

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