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We look at the most common causes of workplace stress, how to spot the signs and how to help employees who may be suffering.
The conversation surrounding mental wellbeing in the workplace has been gaining momentum in recent years. The stigma attached to conditions such as depression and anxiety has lessened greatly, and people are slowly becoming a lot more open about the state of their mental health.
A large part of the discussion has centred on the workplace, a common cause of stress for many people. When high levels of workplace stress continue for a sustained period of time, or warning signs go unnoticed, it can start to manifest itself through stress-related illnesses. According to HSE figures, stress related illness was the direct cause of an additional 12.5 million lost working days during 2016/17, while 44% of sufferers say their workload is the cause of workplace stress.
Modern managers and team leaders need to be aware of potential problems as early as possible, and be able to engage their workforce in a meaningful way regarding mental health issues. Before you can develop an arsenal of useful strategies for managing stress you must first have a good grasp of the causes and warning signs of workplace stress.
Common causes of workplace stress
Stress, depression and anxiety can be caused by a variety of reasons. The most common work-related reason, as stated above, is workload. However, a closer look at the data reveals that tight deadlines are the most stressful part of the workload, rather than the volume of work.
The next highest cause of stress is interpersonal relationships at work. Whether it’s due to a lack of support or communication from management, or something even more severe such as workplace bullying, our personal interactions go a long way towards setting the tone of our perception of any given day.
Other causes regularly mentioned included:
- A level of role uncertainty
- A lack of control or insensitive management
- Changes at work
Living in a time of economic uncertainty increases the importance of stability in the workplace, and even slight shifts in the workplace dynamic, without first consulting employees, can unsettle people dramatically.
You can also avoid some more specific common triggers of stress, such as:
- Boring or repetitive duties
- Having inadequate resources
- Consistent long hours
The environment an employee works in also plays a role. Poor lighting, constant disruptions or temperature fluctuations can all make us feel unsettled.
Stress can manifest in many different ways, but there are tell-tale patterns of behaviour you can learn look out for, before a stress related illness has a chance to develop. Of course, stress affects people in different ways, but some behaviours are common among most people. Part of a manager’s duty is to identify these signs as early as possible, so the appropriate steps can be taken.
Common warning signs include:
Absenteeism – If an employee is regularly missing time from work, it could be a sign they are struggling to cope.
Behavioural changes – These can include an employee becoming withdrawn, irritable, or acting in an unpredictable manner.
Lack of interest – When a normally engaged employee suddenly seems to lose motivation/concentration, including regular tardiness.
Appearance – The impact of some of the above factors often leads to a change in their personal appearance.
While any of the above may signal the level of workplace stress is becoming too much for an employee, they may also be caused by factors outside of the workplace. It’s important to provide support for employees regardless of where the source of the stress originated.
Ways to help
Work-related stress management should be a fundamental part of all your processes. While specific risk assessments are good, there are several ways you can head off some common causes.
Create more flexibility in the workplace. Allowing your employees more choice in selecting when and where they work fosters trust and increases employee satisfaction. Incorporating some aspects of an activity-based workplace will empower your employees, while increasing their engagement with their projects.
Implementing employee health services not only shows you care, but can encourage employees to seek help earlier, minimising the impact on them personally, and the company. videoDoc provides employees with a convenient support option. The whole process is carried out on their smartphone, and averages less than ten minutes, which is a considerable time saving over a trip to a Doctors’s waiting room, and an added bonus for your employees. During an online doctor consultation a doctor can provide a sick note if needed and refer customers to counselling services. If they are on anxiety medication and have run out, in some cases it can be possible for the online doctor to provide a script for a repeat prescription.
Good communication is key in any relationship, and the workplace is no different. Fostering regular communication keeps everyone in the loop, and removes the causes of stress linked to uncertainty. You can also engage your team directly about mental health. Bring the subject out of the shadows and let them know it’s taken seriously where they work.
When training your managers to identify stress, focus on two problems. Firstly, recognising stress as early as possible. Secondly, making yourself or a support service as accessible as possible, so problems are dealt with before they escalate.
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