How to… Manage stress

Stress is an entirely natural feeling which can be experienced by anyone who
feels they are in a demanding situation. It is a combination of anxiety,
frustration and sometimes anger at the perceived lack of control they have over
their circumstances.

Stress is not a mental illness, but excessive or continuous stress can lead
to mental and physical ill health, including depression, muscle tension and
heart disease.

Why is it important?

As many as one in five people suffer from work-related stress in the UK. The
TUC believes that stress causes 270,000 people to take sick leave each year,
costing business dearly in lost productivity.

If nothing is done to tackle the causes of stress in the workplace, an
employer may face legal proceedings from the affected employees. This is
particularly common in instances where the stress occurs due to harassment or
bullying.

Company-wide solutions

Stress at work is usually a symptom of inadequacies in business or
management processes. If this is the case, steps should be taken to identify
and remedy such problems:

– A stress audit: Carried out independently or as part of a general
health risk assessment for staff in the workplace, this will help identify
problems experienced on the front line

– An employee survey: This can offer insights into specific areas of
concern and indicate areas of operations where more detailed research into the
causes of stress is required

– Company culture: Are all employees respected in the workplace, with
no harassment or discrimination? And are they given the support they need, such
as training to do their jobs?

– Excessive work demands: Are sufficient resources – including time –
provided to enable staff to complete their work?

Stress may also occur during specific company initiatives, such as business
or cultural change. If there is a major reorganisation within the workplace and
staff are not consulted or do not understand why the changes are being made and
how they will fit into the new structure, the new regime may prove a source of
stress.

Organisations can instigate a wide range of initiatives to address the
precise nature of workplace stress:

– Improve communications: Is it simply that staff do not understand
why they work like this? Are they aware of the bigger picture to which their
work contributes?

– Increased involvement: If staff feel they have no control over
operating systems which do not work, enable them to give feedback on, or
design, new processes

– Employee Assistant Programmes: This resource can include facilities
such as confidential counselling, workplace massages and provision of access to
leisure facilities. Some independent counselling programmes include the supply
of feedback to the HR department itself on the types of problems raised by
employees. This can be done without compromising the confidentiality of the
service.

However, it should be remembered that EAPs and increased employee benefits
will merely compensate the employee for the stress they feel – the stress
itself will continue to be present at work.

Individual solutions

As an individual, you must try to set your own rules about work and stick to
them. Remember:

– Time allotments: Be clear about when you are available and to whom

– Improve management of meetings: Do not allow them to run aimlessly
or over time

– Create your own social support system: This can include workplace
colleagues, friends, family, independent counsellors, mentors or coaches who
will listen to your problems with sympathy and understanding. You need a
variety of people to match the variety of areas where stress can be felt

– Design your work-life balance and keep to it: This may include
specific time dedicated to your family, external interests or charity work

Where can I get more information?

Managing stress materials

Trade Union Congress –  www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/

Health and Safety Executive – www.hsc.gov.uk/pubns/stresspk.htm

Stress research/ reports

Institute for Employment Studies – www.employment-studies.co.uk

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Work Conditions – www.eurofound.ie

Also Control Risks Group and IHI have recently produced bottomLine, a
solution which offers a full audit of a company’s current health risks and
activities.

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