Stress in the Workplace

By 15th May 2019

A YouGov poll in 2014 found that two thirds of the UK workforce are facing increased responsibilities at work, and more than a third have an expectation of unpaid overtime. Only a third of people surveyed would agree that they looked forward to going into work in the morning – the majority of us are dissatisfied, or deeply unhappy. Figures from the Health & Safety Executive corroborate this – in 2017/18, there were 595,000 people reporting ill health due to work-related stress, and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression were the reason for 20% of all GP visits.

The uncertainty around Brexit is also causing anxieties for those of us working in the UK. In research conducted by Right Management, they found that one in five employees believe their career is already slowing down because of Brexit, and four in five believed that their company were not prepared to make a success of the new circumstances.

Our immune systems are not designed to deal with long-term stress, which means that we become more open to disease, and continual surges of adrenaline can worsen heart health. Medical research has found that the body is often unable to distinguish between physical danger and psychological distress. In fact, because there is often no physical outlet for stressful situations, the effects caused by psychological factors can be more prolonged, and more random in their manifestation.

How can we manage stress?

The Mental Health Foundation suggest that one of the easiest and quickest ways to deal with stress is to speak to someone. Once you’ve shared what’s on your mind, either with a colleague or manager, or with a professional, you can begin to rationalise the different factors at work that may be harming your well-being.

When facing an immediately stressful situation, such as being required to present at a board meeting without sufficient notice, or being caught in a difficult conversation, we recommend taking a second to check the reality of the situation. Stop, breathe, think – assess the situation, and collect your thoughts. This can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

It’s also important to take stock of your workload, and speak out if you feel you’re being overworked. This can be daunting, depending on the type of organisation you work for and what your management structure looks like, but for long-term results it’s necessary to make sure you have enough time for your own well-being. Training yourself to be more assertive can be valuable here – practice saying “no” with a coworker. How do you assert your boundaries?

How can managers help alleviate stress in High Performing cultures?

Take stock of your leadership style. Do you think people in your team would feel comfortable coming to you if their work was causing them ill health? Traditional leadership styles of command and control may not facilitate this as well as you’d like. We’ve written on how vulnerable leadership can help you navigate the new world of work here.

It may also be helpful to share with your team times when you’ve felt under pressure or stressed, so that they know you understand that the work can be demanding, and what you’ve done to reassert your time.

Finally, make sure you lead by example. If your team see you taking on more than you can handle, constantly staying late at the office, and not taking your full lunch break or holiday allowance, they will start to believe that’s “just how things are done”. 

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