Stress Awareness Month: managing stress in a modern ‘always on’ work environment
With technology and an always-on culture contributing to our highly stressed workforce, Stress Awareness Month is the perfect time for HR professionals to remind themselves of the multi-faceted approach to combatting stress among employees.
In the modern world of work there are times when we need to work outside of our normal hours; meaning early mornings, late nights or even weekends. And while technology supports this need by giving us the ability to work anywhere and at any time, there are downsides to this too.
The pressure to be ‘always on’ can lead to stress and exhaustion as well as impact on staff productivity, loyalty and retention in the workplace.
Stress Awareness Month, which takes place during April, is a great opportunity for HR professionals to ensure that their colleagues have a healthy work-life balance and are able to manage work stress.
Stressed by tech
Advancements in technology mean that many of us can work remotely, or at home. For some this can help to balance work and home lives. But if we’re not careful we can bring the stresses of work into the important down time that we need outside of the working environment.
Recent Bupa research found that the majority of employees check work emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and many also feel pressured to answer work emails at the weekend.
HR professionals are at the forefront of workplace culture, and this includes putting measures into place to help protect employee mental health.
Long hours and 24/7 access to work through smartphones and email provides very little time for staff members to relax if feeling stressed. A third of employees check and respond to work emails despite being off sick, and others do the same when on holiday.
While employees might feel that they are being productive by working around the clock, it’s clear all of this time online can affect other important elements of our lives, such as diet, sleep, exercise and socialising, which all play a vital role in overall mental health and wellbeing.
Many businesses have taken steps to help ensure their employees have a good work-life balance and HR teams play a key part in tackling these steps.
Despite this, our research reveals employees still believe that the best way to progress their career is to be available around the clock. A fifth of employees believe that they would be viewed as uncommitted to their job if they did not respond to emails outside of working hours.
For other employees, their commitment to their roles means that they won’t seek help, even if they are struggling with stress. Employees have told us that they try to downplay illnesses so that they don’t take time off, and our latest research showed that workers would wait an average of 52 days before seeking help for a mental health issue, and less than one in 10 would confide in a colleague or manager.
But employees should be encouraged to speak up, as early diagnosis and treatment can help speed up recovery.
A certain amount of workplace stress can be positive. It can help employees prepare for challenges, and some even feel they work best under pressure. But issues can come when someone is stressed or overworked for a prolonged period of time.
When someone isn’t coping with stress you might notice that they’re constantly worried, lack confidence or feel emotional, and they might even tell you about physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and tiredness.
Employees feel more empowered to work regular hours and take breaks if they see senior leaders displaying the same behaviour.
When it comes to wellbeing at work, the importance of safeguarding mental health has become much more understood over the past few years. And two thirds of business leaders now report that mental health has become a boardroom priority.
HR professionals are at the forefront of workplace culture, and this includes putting measures into place to help protect employee mental health, reduce stress and tackle the ‘always on’ modern working culture.
Some of the simple measures that HR professionals can put into place include:
Leading from the front – employees feel more empowered to work regular hours and take breaks if they see senior leaders displaying the same behaviour. HR professionals should therefore make sure this culture flows through all levels of the business.
Setting boundaries – creating time limits for when employees can respond to and send emails is a great way to encourage breaks both from work and technology. This also prevents early morning or late night working, helping them ‘switch off’ and get the downtime they need.
Making achievable goals – switching off from technology completely is virtually impossible. Instead, encourage colleagues to set realistic goals for cutting back on their technology use, which they’re more likely to stick to.
Starting the conversation – if you notice a colleague seems to be working all hours, displaying the signs of stress, or is always ‘switched on’, try to initiate a conversation about how they’re feeling, and if they need support with their workload or advice from a health professional.
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK