8 tips to tackle workplace stress

Workplace stress is on the increase with the cost to UK businesses running into the billions. Learn what you can do as an employer with our 8 tips to manage workplace stress.

Workplace stress is a serious issue and one that’s often overlooked when setting up a business. Yet according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), each year more than 400,000 people suffer from stress-related illnesses caused by their work – accounting for 43% of all working days lost. That adds up to around £30bn each year in lost productivity and the cost of replacing staff who leave a job due to stress-related ill health.

Stress is especially challenging for small business owners, according to research by Health Assured. It found that two thirds of small business owners find running a start-up more stressful than ever before, and two fifths currently have staff absent due to stress.

Why reduce workplace stress?

Chronic workplace stress can take a severe toll on an employee’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Symptoms of stress include headaches, listlessness and appetite loss through to sleeplessness, depression, raised blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Faced with the huge impact stress causes, it’s vital to take practical steps to combat workplace stress.

There are clear benefits to reducing work-related stress. Employees who feel happier perform better, attendance improves, and problems can be resolved in the workplace rather than escalating to costly employment tribunals. A stress-free workforce is more flexible and willing to adopt different working practices and business change.

If you’ve five or more staff in your business, you have a legal responsibility to minimise the risk of stress-related illness, including carry out risk assessments for stress. The HSE have produced a downloadable guide for employers on how to tackle workplace stress.

Tips to reduce workplace stress

Here are some key ways you can help reduce workplace stress for your employees.

Adopt good working practices –  Staff become stressed if they’re unable to cope with their workload. Ensure each employee has the skills and aptitude needed for their role, and provide an accurate job description outlining their duties. Provide training, ensure workloads are reasonable and regularly review employee’s performance and duties. Be adaptable – if an employee is facing a personal emergency, such as child care issues, show flexibility on working hours and deadlines.

Lead by example –  Set a good example by managing your own stress and time. While start-ups are demanding, avoid spending long hours at your desk and take regular breaks. Eat healthy and exercise, and show staff that it’s OK to take time out to relax and de-stress.

Involve staff in decisions –  Avoid treating staff simply as employees filling a role. Staff who feel valued and included in your start-up have lower stress levels, compared to employees who feel that they’ve no control over what’s happening. This is especially true during the uncertain early years of a start-up. Hold regular staff meetings, run workshops to generate ideas, and hold one-to-one meetings to check how staff feel and to share business progress with them.

Be supportive –  Provide a sympathetic ear, so employees have the chance to talk about what’s causing stress and actively work together to find positive, productive solutions. Consider flexible working hours to reduce the demands on staff and help them achieve a better work/life balance.

Encourage teamwork –  Encourage a strong relationship between employees based on good behaviour, respect and trust. Put policies in place to handle unsatisfactory performance, poor attendance and misconduct, and for tackling bullying and harassment.

Introduce employee wellbeing and health schemes –  A healthy lifestyle is vital for combating work-related stress. Employee wellness schemes, such as subsidized gym memberships, can help employees take care of themselves. Encourage staff to take regular breaks, use their full holiday entitlement, and eat healthily by providing free fruit and filtered water for the office.

Create a social environment –  Develop a sense of fun at work – if employees enjoy being at work, they’re happier and more productive. Introduce an hour each week for the team to get together, play games, hold an office quiz, have a guest speaker or simply head out for a team lunch.

Make the office a positive environment –  Keep workspaces clean, well-lit and clutter-free, ensuring all equipment works properly. Crashing PCs, broken printers and flaky internet connections all increase stress levels. Budget for redecorating the office, adding new furniture, pictures and plants around the workplace. Even updating the office crockery and buying a new kettle can help boost morale.

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