If you sometimes think you’re going to flip out at work, you’re not alone. According to the Health and Safety Executive, 440,000 people in the UK reported work-related stress was making them ill in 2014-2015; 40% of all work-related illness.
While we all like to think of ourselves as cool, collected professionals, in reality everyone is susceptible to negative feelings such as anger, fear or distress when under pressure. Whether it’s a difficult manager, threats of redundancy or ever-shrinking budgets and ever-growing expectations, stresses at work can chip away at confidence and job satisfaction until we begin to dread arriving at work.
Major causes of work stress
Most work stress results from poor management in one way or another. Sometimes stress arises from workplace bullying or harassment, which can cause distress for not only the victim but others who witness the behaviour.
Excessive pressure and a lack of support can result in high staff turnover, low morale and a sense of failure. Often, problems are related to poor communication which could identify issues before they cause excessive stress.
Symptoms of work stress
Problems at work often translate into a reduction of quality of life outside work, too. Symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, indigestion, social withdrawal and loss of sex drive can have serious consequences for the employee’s personal relationships. Under stress, some people look to junk food, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs for comfort, leading to health problems.
Ignoring the symptoms of work stress over a long period can have a profound impact on an individual, potentially leading to time off work for physical or emotional health problems.
How managers can reduce stress at work
As an executive, your role is to make sure your business is productive and profitable – why should you worry about workers’ feelings? The answer is that an employee reporting work-related stress is often the tip of the iceberg; others might also be feeling unhappy and have falling productivity or absenteeism. These are both expensive problems to have.
People in positions of leadership have an important role to play in forming the culture of an organisation. When employees feel valued, rewarded and understand what is expected of them, they tend to be more productive. On the other hand, long hours, harsh words and unmanageable workloads will have worker motivation dropping, and the best talent will simply find new jobs.
Work-related stress is a real risk to your business and you should develop policies and practices to manage it, as with any other risk. Defining responsibilities for line managers, HR and other key figures will help to reduce the risks for both you and your staff.
What can employees do to manage stress?
No job is without its challenges and times of strain, so managing stress is a key skill for success. Workplace stress is often associated with feelings of helplessness. Developing more assertiveness, for example, in speaking up when your workload is unmanageable or you need help with a task, will help you take back control.
Lifestyle changes can help people who feel under pressure to relax and recover after work; healthy eating, exercise, plenty of sleep and avoiding too much alcohol, tobacco or drugs will all help.
For people who feel very depressed and anxious, the worst strategy is to bottle things up and hope the problems will go away. Talking to someone, whether this is a counsellor, trusted colleague or someone else at work should help. You can explore what you find problematic about the workplace and either make changes or develop strategies to deal with it.
Prioritising and emotional intelligence
When we’re stressed out, our concentration spans become more limited and we become upset or angry much more quickly. Developing greater awareness of how you feel at work can be the first step to addressing long-term stress; for example, by noticing when you’re setting unrealistic expectations of yourself, or blaming yourself for events outside your control.
At the same time, if you feel that your workload is overwhelming then you need a prioritisation system to help break it into manageable chunks so you make progress. There are only so many hours in the day, so it’s important to focus on the tasks that really matter, rather than getting distracted by emails or unimportant jobs.
How does your workplace handle excess stress? Does it pose a risk to your productivity and profits?