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What Leaders Can Do to Reduce Employee Stress
It is easy to think that “work” and “stress” go hand in hand. After all, if it were a walk in the park, it probably would not be called work.
Yet, there is a point at which the stress of work can actually become detrimental to one’s health. In fact, a recent study by the British Heart Foundation found that two in every five employees say that stress at work has affected their health, by causing them to smoke and drink more, eat poorly, and forego exercise.
Long working hours and intense demands are the primary culprits, but some employees also report difficult bosses and co-workers and poor working conditions as a cause of their stress.
Not only are such high levels of stress harming our health, they also harm businesses. Employees who are sick and worn out not only are less productive, but also are more likely to file a personal injury claim against their employers.
Labour laws require employers to maintain a healthy working environment, which includes protecting mental health and keeping stress in check, and those who do not adhere to those laws and fail to address stressful environments are vulnerable to claims, which can wind up costing millions of pounds in damages.
So what is an employer to do? Eliminating all workplace stress is clearly impractical, since there will always be times when employees need to stay late or face challenges.
Establishing a procedure for employees to get help with stress when necessary is key but, as a manager, there is plenty you can do to keep employees from being stressed to start with.
Lead by Example
Many workers, especially younger ones, are encouraged to follow their boss’ lead when it comes to career success.
“Arrive before your boss, and don’t leave until she does,” is the conventional wisdom handed out to many young people.
Given that so many people are looking to their bosses for guidance on how to behave at work, what message are you sending?
If you are in the office at dawn, stay late every night, and eat lunch at your desk every day, it is likely that your employees will follow your lead and do the same.
Remember, you are responsible for establishing the culture of your workplace, and if the culture you are creating is one of long hours and little work/life balance, you are probably a major factor in your employees’ stress levels. To keep everyone’s stress in check, commit to modelling better work/life balance by working reasonable hours, taking breaks, and having a life outside of the office.
Even your salaried employees are allowed to take breaks throughout the day (the law entitles them to at least a 20 minute break for every six hours worked, and 11 hours between working days) so make sure that they are taking those breaks.
In fact, studies show that most people are most productive if they work in 90-minute spurts punctuated by 20-minute breaks, so it is likely that you will actually get better work from your team if you allow them regular periods of rest.
This is another area where you can lead by example. Take short breaks yourself to grab a snack and check in with your employees, or dedicate part of a meeting to brainstorming ideas for better breaks. For example, rally some of your team to take a short walk after lunch, or create a “quiet zone” where individuals can go take a rest and clear their heads. With many opportunities to decompress throughout the day, employees are likely to be more productive and less stressed.
Sometimes, employees just need a chance to share what they are thinking and express their concerns or complaints.
Many are afraid to talk to their bosses, though, because they do not want to create the impression that they cannot handle their jobs. But to be an effective leader and reduce stress, you need to not only say that you have an open door policy, but follow through with it.
This means listening to employee concerns with an open mind, and helping them find solutions to the work problems that are contributing to their stress. It is important that you practice active listening, and focus conversations on solutions rather than complaints, but if employees know that they can be honest and you will listen compassionately, stress should become less of an issue.
Encourage Team Bonding
Our teammates are our support system at work, but if your team is dysfunctional and does not communicate well, there are bound to be problems that cause stress.
Leaders need to encourage their teams to bond with each other and build solid, trusting relationships.
When the teams are strong, there is greater accountability to each other and better communication, as well as greater trust. Include team-building activities in your staff meetings, or even schedule a retreat from the office where employees can share experiences and solve the issues that prevent them from working together effectively. If they know they can rely on each other, and have good working relationships, interpersonal conflicts and other problems that cause stress diminish.
Create a Pleasant Working Environment
No one wants to spend his or her days working in a space that is dirty, cluttered, noisy, and unpleasant. In fact, studies show that excess clutter actually contributes to stress and anxiety, and makes it more difficult to get work done.
You might not be able to do much about the physical environment of your office space in terms of layout or décor, but you can encourage employees to keep the place clean and the noise levels low. Bring in a plant or fresh flowers, hang attractive art on the walls, and make the overall environment as pleasant as possible to help reduce stress.
Allow Flexible Work Schedules
While not practical for all businesses, allowing employees some flexibility in when and where they work can go a long way toward reducing stress.
Often, what causes stress is not necessarily the work itself, but managing all of life’s responsibilities, including children, spouses, and household responsibilities in addition to work. Allowing employees to work remotely, or to set their own hours, helps them maintain that balance more effectively, and keeps stress low.
While employers cannot remove every possible stressor from their employees and guarantee that they will never feel overwhelmed by work, they can make changes to keep stress manageable. Given the serious consequences of overly stressed employees, it only makes sense to do your part.
About the Author
Megan Andrews is a freelance writer who is just stepping into the wonderful world of content marketing and SEO. She has a BA in English and experience in many fields, ranging from finance to health (and a few odd ones too). When not creating quality content for quality sites, Megan enjoys reading, photography, and learning new things about the amazing world around her.