Nathaniel Smithies, Director at PlusGuidance, looks at how to spot the signs of stress in your employees and how to tackle it.
Stress is a common problem for many employers, contributing to increased absence rates as well as reduced staff performance and productivity. Stress costs British businesses £1.24bn and 105 million lost days each year and, for the individual, causes long-lasting psychological problems. So it’s important to have a strategy in place to identify and tackle stress in the workplace.
When it comes to spotting the warning signs, no one person is the same, but there are some common things to look out for:
- Changes in working patterns such as, for example, an employee frequently arriving later, staying later or taking work home to finish that should have been easily achievable during normal working hours.
- Changes in attendance, such as increased sick leave or the constant need to take time off.
- Behavioural changes – Alarm bells should ring if someone becomes more withdrawn, loses motivation, confidence, or suffers from frequent mood swings.
- Increased sensitivity to events, including over-reacting to comments, being more aggressive or irritable.
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, aches and admissions of sleeping badly.
- Mental indicators relating to confusion, indecision, poor concentration and judgment.
- Poor performance – Reduced productivity, poor time keeping and a lower standard of work.
- Deteriorating personal or work relationships, which sees an employee become disconnected with the rest of the team and withdrawing from team-based activities.
Arguments and disputes between employees, difficulty attracting and retaining staff as well an increase in complaints are also indicative of stress within a group.
So what can you do?
Simple things like ensuring staff take breaks, or go for a walk can really help, as can having daily chats about how things are going – communication between team members is key!
But, most importantly, you need to identify the root cause of an employee’s stress. What is stopping them from enjoying their work? How has this manifested and when did it occur? Establish a cause and effect.
For example, anger could be triggered by frustration within a role. An employee may want to develop, but feels ignored or held back. In this case, wanting to progress is a real positive that should be nurtured, so be empathetic to any issues, help resolve them and ensure that there is a supportive business culture. If workers feel supported, it will help them to recover and return to work as soon as possible.
You also need to make sure that there are open lines of communication with staff. Inform and consult employees on changes that are likely to affect them before they take place and encourage them to ask questions throughout so that they feel involved, valued and respected.
Of course, stress can be a result of factors outside of work so there is only so much that managers themselves can do. Help staff to deal with stress by suggesting appropriate health services.
Workplace counsellors can really help employees to identify their stress triggers, meaning that solutions to tackle these can be sought. You can identify potential counsellors locally through professional associations like the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), or if your employees would prefer more immediate and discreet counselling at the click of a button, consider online therapy platforms such as PlusGuidance.