For business owners, mental health and well-being is a critical issue – for themselves and their employees. In many jobs stress is almost accepted (or even expected) but that isn’t how it should be; no matter how busy or demanding the job. When it becomes unmanageable, work-related stress can be a key cause of, or significant contributor to, mental health problems. Here’s what you can do to help…
It’s fair to say that stress is often unavoidable. No matter where you work, or what your day-to-day job entails, there are always things that can trigger it. The key is to recognise what those triggers are, for you and your employees, and to put measures in place to minimise their impact. There’s no doubt that for any business, whether it’s a large corporation with thousands of employees, an SME, or a sole trader, stress can have a hugely damaging effect.
What is Stress?
The potential for stress is everywhere. There are times when we all have to deal with fast-approaching deadlines, managing multiple tasks, things going wrong, or a demanding boss. That’s not to mention our colleagues…
The root cause of stress can determine the type of stress and impact it has. There’s positive stress as well as negative and in manageable doses, this can be a good thing. Positive stress includes the nerves you feel before delivering a big presentation or client pitch; it can motivate and drive people to achieve their goals. As long as this type of stress remains manageable, it isn’t a problem. However, when stress becomes unmanageable, it has a negative effect. Negative stress can make people feel like they’re sinking under pressure, that they can’t cope, or have no support. This can lead to anxiety, poor performance at work, depression and other mental health issues, as well as physical health problems. This creates a feedback pattern of stress that just keeps building.
When thinking about how we can limit the potential for stress, the first thing to consider is whether we can influence its trigger. Put simply, there are triggers to stress that we can control and triggers that we can’t. For those that we can affect, it’s important to do so. For example, putting things off and leaving an important deadline until the last minute, when it’s been in the diary for months, triggers stress that could have been avoided. In contrast, a technical problem that causes a job to be missed from the schedule will trigger stress that is unavoidable.
Why is it important for employers to address stress?
Limiting the potential for stress at work is in the best interests of every business owner. Employees who are happy at work are more productive, have fewer absences due to illness, create a better work-environment with colleagues and keep the business running smoothly. Not to mention that it’s a legal requirement for employers to take care of the health, safety and welfare of their staff. This includes taking positive action to reduce the potential for stress. It may also mean making reasonable adjustments to help anyone who is suffering from a mental health issue.
Induction and training are important, no matter how big or small the business may be and they should cover more than fire exits, the kitchen and toilets! Staff should know the story behind how and why the business began and what drives the people who run it. Help new staff members to feel like they’re part of the family from day one.
Training should be thorough and formal. A record of what has been covered is always recommended and demonstrates to staff that management takes their welfare and personal development seriously. Ongoing training and development, along with a workplace culture where people are encouraged to ask questions, seek assistance and highlight problems will go a long way to building a strong and happy team.
Fun and Games
A pleasant working environment is a sure-fire way to get more from everyone. Space away from the frontline where staff can chill out, relax and play, is even better. Encouraging social time, a monthly lunch club, or fish ‘n’ chip Friday, where everyone can do something together away from the office is a great idea to foster good relationships between employees at all levels.
Whether you’re a business owner, line manager or frontline worker, when away from work, set time aside for relaxation. Sleep alone is not enough to recharge your batteries. Spend time with friends, family or enjoy some self-indulgence. Exercise, enjoy your favourite take-away, go see a movie… Whatever it is, be sure to do something you enjoy.
Not everyone will get along. Personalities clash, some people have nothing in common. In any workplace, issues will sometimes arise. Employers that foster an open and respectful working environment will have a better chance of issues being resolved quickly. If an issue arises that requires management intervention, a calming influence and clear head will be needed.
Business owners and line managers can help to build resilience amongst employees by taking the time to get to know them. Have regular time on the frontline, speaking with staff members and asking how they’re getting on. This will help them to feel they can approach you if there’s something that’s getting on top of them at work.
Identifying Stress-Triggers – Practical Action to Take
Finding out where the potential for stress lurks within the business is the first step. It can be done by simply consulting employees, but a better method is to include everyone in carrying out a workplace audit. This will identify the highest risk areas for stress. When these areas have been highlighted, create a three-step plan to address the problems.
- List the potential stress triggers and causes.
- Create and implement processes to eliminate them or limit their impact.
- Review regularly to ensure the actions have been successful.
Here are some of the main causes of workplace stress and tips for how to limit and deal with it:
|Stress Trigger||Tactics to limit and deal with stress|
|Important planned deadlines||Organised work schedules, to-do lists, staggered-deadlines.|
|Unexpected deadlines||Team work, appropriate delegation, additional motivators and rewards.|
|Unclear hierarchy||Clearly designated areas of responsibility, reporting lines and management.|
|Job security||Effective change management, clearly defined job roles and expectations. Involve staff in setting goals and reviewing performance.|
|Insufficient Training||Formal induction to the company for all new starters, thorough training for every role, performance management and reviews.|
|Workload issues||Create an environment where asking for help is encouraged. Involve staff in setting their targets and reviewing their achievements.|
|Being taken for granted||Always recognise and acknowledge when team members have done a good job.|
|Too much work, not enough play||Work-life balance is very important. Recognise this in company procedures and handbooks, managers should let employees know it’s important and set a good example themselves.|
|Poor communication||Managers should set time aside to talk to staff, be visible and accessible. Foster an open and honest environment, where staff hear any important news together, directly, rather than via the grapevine.|
|Poor work habits||A disorganised and untidy workspace creates a stressful environment. Ensure everyone encourages tidy practices and a ‘put-it-back’ culture for tools and equipment.|
Whatever your job or position in the business, the most important thing to remember is the need for self-care. This helps more than anything else in dealing with stress. Taking the time to get yourself in the best shape mentally, will give you the best chance of coping with stress when it does rear its head.
The 10th October is World Mental Health Day. You can find out more about this year’s theme here.