How to Identify and Manage Stress
How to Identify and Manage Stress
Even before the onset of Covid-19, almost 75% of people surveyed in the UK stated that they had felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. According to the latest statistics from the HSE, in 2019/20 work related stress, depression and anxiety accounted for the majority of days lost to ill health at work, with 17.9 million days lost, averaging 21.6 days per employee which cost the economy billions of pounds in lost productivity. With the ongoing negative impacts of coronavirus on individuals and businesses it is not surprising that stress levels are increasing. According to the mental health organization, TalkOut, 35% of workers said that their mental health had got worse since the start of the pandemic and only 44% had received support or advice from their employers.
Absence due to stress is now the second most cited cause, even though many employees still won’t admit that they are suffering from stress or mental health issues, and often they will ask their GP to be signed off with some mystery illness, such as stomach problems or ‘flu like symptoms. Therefore, sickness absence figures due to stress are often inaccurate, may be even higher than reported, and mask the real issues. A survey by ACAS on 2,000 employees found that two-thirds had felt stressed or anxious about work; a survey of 1,500 employees in SMEs found that 23% would prefer not to explain an absence from work rather than talk about mental health issues, despite 14% of absences being due to issues with stress and mental health.
So, it’s important that organizations invest in the physical and mental health and well-being of their employees. However, often line managers fail to identify stress either in themselves or in their team members, or fail to deal with the signs early on, which has been eacerbated by the increase in remote working. This can result in cases of burnout where individuals experience mental exhaustion with possible feelings of resentment and aggression towards the employer or colleagues. Sometimes GPs will misdiagnose burnout (or executive stress and nervous exhaustion) as depression when in fact the individual may be suffering from chronic fatigue and insomnia as a result of overworking and may need total rest.
Causes of Stress in the Workplace
The main cause of stress in the workplace is said to be the inability to cope with a high workload, with other causes listed as:
- Trying to manage a work-life balance
- Coping with a challenging manager
- Worrying about invisible pressure
- Increase in responsibility
- Lack of support from management
- Poor working relationships
- Email overload
- Inability to cope with change of manager, owner, location
- Inability to cope with uncertainty over job security
- Lack of feedback on job performance
- Feelings of being undervalued or undermined
- Lack of clarity around the job role
- Lack of ownership of key tasks and decisions
- Little or no Training and Development
Behaviour Change as a Result of Stress
Stress is complex and may manifest itself in many different ways which makes it difficult to identify. Workers may display changes in behaviours such as:
- Become aggressive and confrontational, or withdrawn and isolated
- Arrive late and leave early
- Take long breaks, or no breaks
- Lack concentration or attention to detail
- Lose weight, or put on weight
- Have muscle tension and headaches
- Experience digestive problems
- Cry a lot
- Become ill regularly as their immune system becomes compromised
- Smile less
- Talk negatively and appear pessimistic
- Be disruptive
The Results of Stress on Performance
Stress in the workplace may lead to the following overall effects on performance:
- Increased sickness absence figures
- Increase in number of errors
- More interpersonal conflict and breakdown in working relationships
- Drop in overall quality
- Decrease in customer service standards
- Low engagement
- Drop in productivity
- Increase in grievances
- Increase in employee turnover
Resilience Training and Coaching
Many organizations admit they don’t have a policy for identifying or dealing with employee stress with not even simple questionnaires to identify stress levels, nor a structured approach to dealing with the impact on an individual, team or the organization. Without a strategy to identify, record, monitor or address stress-related incidents or illness, organizations are unable to tackle the real issues and improve sickness absence and attrition rates.
Resilience Coaching and Training can help to prevent stress at work, significantly reduce associated sickness absence rates, and can achieve excellent ROI. However individuals can also take responsibility for their own health and well-being and create a work life balance by regularly asking themselves open questions such as:
- How am I feeling – both physically and mentally? How am I enjoying work on a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being excellent.
- What’s wrong or missing?
- How are my family and/or friends reacting?
- What can I do to improve and move my score nearer to 10?
If you're feeling stressed, making small changes to your work and personal life and modifying behaviours can make a big difference to your health and well-being, such as limiting or even giving up caffeine, which can aggravate stress symptoms and can cause insomnia, nervousness and restlessness, stomach irritation, nausea and increased heart rate. Not taking regular breaks and holidays is counter-productive and not sustainable over a number of years as it can lead to stress, loss in productivity and ultimately burnout.
'I cannot thank you enough. I was in a bad way before our Coaching sessions and really didn't understand why. After just 2 hours you helped me to see why I had lost my mojo and provided practical tips to support me in becoming much happier and more productive again.' Finance Manager
Stay positive, stay safe and shout if you need more tools and technigues to manage stress.
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