Stress is still a growing problem for British workers and there is a need for greater understanding and management of it by employers in all industries. Clive James of St John Ambulance has put together his top tips to help businesses address these issues.
According to a recent survey by the TUC, stress has become the most common health and safety problem at work. Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for approximately 11.4 million reported lost working days per year with 415,000 individuals believing they are experiencing workplace stress at a level that is making them ill.
The impact of this on a business can be immense. Just this year we heard about a local council that forked out some £2million to staff that had reported work-related stress.
What’s more, around 16.7% of all working individuals in 2009 thought that their job was very or extremely stressful. This National Stress Awareness Day businesses need to take notice and recognise the importance of minimising stress in the workplace.
There are a number of steps that businesses can put in place to reduce stress:
1. Communication is key
Both employers and employees can benefit from a good stress management programme, but without offering clear channels of communication even the most thorough stress management programmes can fail. Time should be spent assessing what is going wrong, implementing initiatives, and then reviewing the outcome. Being open to ideas and working closely with staff to get to the root of the problems can help to get to grips with the problem.
2. Know your business and your staff
Understand what times of year staff are more susceptible to stress as a greater number of staff tend to go sick at busy periods of the year, often due to stress.
3. Recognise the signs of stress
Unfortunately, stress is not tangible, which makes it more difficult to manage than other health and safety issues, but there are many signs that employers should look out for that can indicate you have an over-stressed workforce. Some common symptoms that employers should look out for include:
• increased susceptibility to colds and other infections
• short temperedness
• eating without being hungry
• smoking and drinking excessively
• loss of motivation and commitment
4. There is no such thing as a quick-fix solution
Stress cannot be eliminated quickly and given that every workplace is different, businesses need to work out what initiatives would work best for their employees. There are some quick, short term initiatives that are a great way to get the stress management ball rolling. Try putting a punchbag in the corner of the office, or even setting up a ‘time-out room’ with games is a great way to give staff a five minute break. Having an allocated quiet place to work is also helpful.
5. A little praise goes a long way
Something that is forgotten far too often is praise. Managers are often quick to reproach poor work and are slow to praise good work, but the impact a few words can make with some employees is very surprising.
6. Make a difference with staff benefits
Improving the working environment by encouraging extra benefits for staff can also relieve stress without staff realising. Many organisations offer free massages or gym discounts (or have them onsite!).
7. Be flexible
Although it may not be possible to fully implement it in all industries, flexible working can also help alleviate stress. This doesn’t have to mean completely changing someone’s working hours, but there are other areas where being flexible can make employee’s lives less stressful.
8. Be committed
To really minimise stress, business need to take a long-term approach. For example, some employers set up employee assistance programmes (EAP) to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health, and well-being.
9. Take a course in stress management
Stress awareness courses, like the ones regularly held by St John Ambulance, offer valuable information for employers, employees and the general public on how to identify and reduce stress.
10. Have a measured approach
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has clear guidelines for structured stress management. The six step process is an easy way to set up a programme. http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/
- For more information from St John Ambulance on stress awareness, please visit www.sja.org.uk or call 08700 10 49 50.
Clive James is Training Manager at St John Ambulance