In the UK, April is stress awareness month. This is a great opportunity to reflect on how we can reduce stress and improve workplace wellbeing. Stress can have a serious impact on both our emotional and physical well-being, so it’s important to take steps to recognise and address it.
You may have heard that employee wellbeing isn’t a cost, it’s an investment. And it’s true that when you invest in the well-being of your employees, you see amazing returns. Happy, healthy employees are more productive, engaged, and creative. They take fewer sick days and are less likely to leave your company.
Understanding how your body responds to stress
Did you know that stress is the number one cause of illness in the workplace? It’s no wonder, considering all the different stressors we face on a daily basis. From deadlines and conflict to job insecurity and overworking, it’s easy for stress to take over our lives and our health.
But what exactly is stress, and how does it affect our bodies? Stress is a response from our body when it’s under pressure. It’s the “fight or flight” response, which is designed to help us cope with danger or stress. When we experience stress, our heart rate increases and we release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help us to stay alert and focused, but they can also have negative effects on our health if they’re released constantly.
Stress can lead to a range of health problems such as :
- heart disease
- gastrointestinal problems
- sleep problems
- high blood pressure
Identify the types of work-related stress triggers
Let’s look at the different types of stress triggers that can affect your workplace. Identifying these stressors is the first step in learning how to deal with them effectively.
There are many different things that can cause stress in the workplace. It might be something as simple as a colleague who is constantly noisy or the stress of meeting deadlines. Also remember that what can be motivating for one person, can cause negative stress in another. Some common stressors can include:
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Working in a high-pressure environment
- Conflict with co-workers or bosses
- Not having control over your work schedule or tasks
- Job insecurity
- Feeling unsupported or unvalued
- Stress from home life spilling over into work
If you feel stress within the workplace, start to notice and track what triggers and causes may be affecting you. If you can, do this with the mindset of “no shame, no blame”.. Look at it as you are collecting data/information to make better decisions. Release the judgement.
7 Practical tips to promote workplace wellness
Here are 7 practical tips that you can use to promote workplace wellness and organise wellbeing initiatives:
1 Encourage Physical Activity
One of the best ways to reduce stress is to get active. Let’s be honest, how often have you got out of your chair today (other than to grab a tea or coffee)? Encourage your employees to take short breaks throughout the day. Encourage them to go for a walk outside and grab some fresh air. The benefits of getting outside are numerous. It’s so easy for people to eat breakfast or lunch at their desks. To be rarely moving over the course of a working day. This can also lead to getting tried “screen eyes”. Taking regular breaks is an important way to reduce stress levels and improve productivity. Work with your teams to find out what would work and encourage them to move more during the day. Are you able to have some standing/walking desks? Can you introduce walk ‘n’ talk meetings? Does your company or department have fitness classes or team sports?
2 Create a Relaxing Environment
A calm and relaxing environment can help to reduce stress levels. Do remember that what can be an “energising” working environment for one person can be “draining” for another. Some people love the sound of people chatting in the background, while some hard it hard to concentrate. If you have bigger teams do consider where the “quiet” and “noisy” people are placed. Ensure there is a mixture of environments to accommodate as many needs as possible. Consider areas that minimise noise and distractions, and provide comfortable seating. Some offices operate a traffic light system which allows others to know if the other person can’t be disturbed.
3 Encourage Good Nutrition
A healthy diet is essential for maintaining good health and reducing stress levels. Encourage your employees to eat a balanced diet with a range of energy-boosting and nutritionally rich food choices around the office. This can be both in the canteen area and snack machines. There are other initiatives you can offer such as working with a local company to deliver healthy fruit once a week. Also, ensure there is easy access to water as hydration is an important element of stress-reduction and overall health.
4 Promote Mindfulness
Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment without judgement. Creating special sessions where there is a culture of “no shame, no blame” – gives employees the opportunity to express their ideas and work in a unique way, before they share them with other colleagues or their boss. Giving them an opportunity to feel like their ideas are heard and not attacked. Allowing for confidence to improve and stress to reduce. Implementing mentoring sessions can also support this type of activity. Some businesses create “grandfather/mother” roles for older employees to pair up with new younger employees. Allow wise knowledge of how to deal with situations, people, clients to pass on. You can also encourage mindfulness by providing stress-relieving activities such as meditation or yoga.
5 Provide Employee Assistance Programs
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) provide counselling and support for employees who are struggling with stress or other mental health issues. EAPs are a great way to help employees get the support they need. Many employers offer these programs for free or at a reduced cost. Some companies are now offering “wellness days” where employees can come in and have a range of different treatments on offer such as massages, yoga or acupuncture sessions. This type of treatment not only helps to improve stress levels but also employees’ productivity and creativity.
6 Lead by Example
The best way to promote workplace wellness is to lead by example. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself and modelling healthy behaviours. Take breaks from your screen and desk. This also includes not sending or answering emails on the weekends or late evenings.
7 Listen to your team
One of the most important ways to reduce stress in the workplace is to really listen to your teams about what they find stressful. Sometimes it can be the small things that really matter. See if there are any elements at the start of the working day which can be improved to reduce stress. Research shows that by having a positive start to the working day, employees are more productive and stress-free for longer.
External Support for Small Businesses
Just as we suggest employees ask for help when they need it, as a business owner you can do the same. A great website to visit if you are a UK small business is Health And Safety Executive tools and template resource page for stress at work. Check it out here https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/downloads.htm
We at SKC Occupational Health are also very well equipped to support you and your teams. Feel free to see how by contacting us here.
April is stress awareness month in the UK. So I encourage you to see how stress may be affecting you. Stress is a major problem in the workplace today, with stress levels doubling since 2009. It can have a wide range of effects on the body and mind. Remember that everyone is unique and different types of stress triggers can affect people differently. Above we have outlined some of the practical tips that could be incorporated into your workplace or suggested to colleagues. If you feel like stress is affecting you both in the workplace or at home, there are many resources and support for you. It’s ok to ask for help.