How to reduce employee stress

How to reduce employee stress

Stress levels are rising

Data from the Health and Safety Executive shows an enormous increase in stress, depression and anxiety in recent years.

A second study found that 79% of workers have experienced burnout with 35% reporting high or extreme levels.

The increases we have witnessed in recent years is a clear indication that we need to better support and educate our employees.

Stress can be difficult to pick up on

We all experience stress to a certain degree. Some stress can be helpful, giving us drive and motivation. But too much stress can cause illness. The tipping point where stress becomes a problem depends on many variables. This chart from CIPR demonstrates this brilliantly:

Recognising when your stress factors have reached excessive levels isn’t always easy. Likewise, line managers may be unaware of the stress factors outside of work making it very difficult for them to pick up on too.

Stress is often downplayed

As a society we use the term “stress” to describe many scenarios. These could be individual occurrences that while they cause momentary stress, once that situation is over, the stress is no longer felt. Running late, doing a speech and going for an interview are all examples of this.

We also use the word “stress” to describe ongoing scenarios such as financial problems, health concerns or an excessive workload.

The two examples are very different, but both are categorised under the same label of “stress”. As a result, if someone is reaching their ‘tipping point’, using the term “stressed” to describe how they feel may be overlooked. It may even prevent them from speaking up in the first place.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that stress isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis. But stress can cause mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

This could go some way to explain why people often only ask for help when stress has developed into a mental illness. With better education and support, we can change this. So let’s have a look at what can be done at every level within an organisation.

What employers can do to reduce employee stress

Ultimately as an employer you need to create a safe culture. One in which employees feel comfortable starting a conversation about how stress is impacting them. The more this can be focused on prevention and early intervention the better. Here are some suggestions of how you can achieve that:

Stress audits

It is your legal duty to protect employees from stress at work. By carrying out a risk assessment you can identify the areas you need to improve. The HSE has a useful template to help you do this.

A formal wellbeing strategy

In 2021 only 50% of UK organisations had a formal strategy or plan in place. With a strategy specifically aimed at the mental wellbeing of your employees it will emphasise the importance you place on their mental health and help guide your team when supporting employees.

Ensure line mangers understand their role

It’s important for your line managers to know that they do not need to diagnose stress or come up with a treatment plan. Their role is to recognise the signs, provide a safe environment for discussion and to navigate individuals towards sources of help. Training could be beneficial to help your line managers better support their team.

Mental Health First Aiders

With trained Mental Health First Aiders present you give your employees an additional route for support. Employees often feel more comfortable speaking to someone who doesn’t work directly in their team. Their training also provides reassurance that they will listen and understand.

Be aware of the impact of change

Any change can cause stress so be aware of how any organisational changes could be impacting your employees. Offer them additional support if needed and keep in touch more regularly.

Create a community

This year’s Stress Awareness Month revolves around the theme of community following evidence of how impactful loneliness can be to our mental health. For all of the above points to be successful your employees need to feel like they are part of a community. One that is supportive and encouraging. Good internal communications are central to this but you could also introduce various initiatives such as regular social events, encouraging employees to exercise and ensuring employees take breaks.

What line managers can do to reduce employee stress

Line managers play a massive part in supporting employees’ stress levels. But they are also a big cause of stress – the HSE reported that the main factors cited to be causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety are workload pressure and a lack of managerial support. We need to better equip our line managers so they can become a support rather than a cause. Here are some suggestions to help line managers reduce employee stress:

Know the signs of stress

Stress is multi-faceted. Line managers need to look beyond working life and understand the signs of stress. This factsheet provides a helpful list.

Be able to start a conversation

Broaching a conversation with an employee about their stress levels could help prevent the stress from becoming unmanageable. This Talking Toolkit provides useful guidance and questions to help do just that.

Know where to signpost people

If line managers identify that an employee needs additional support they need to know what to do next. Having a list of the options will ensure the employee gets the support they need – whether that’s through a Mental Health First Aider, member of HR, external counselling service or a support charity.

Draw upon their compassion

Showing compassion is absolutely critical for employees to feel confident enough to speak up. While some managers may naturally have compassion, others may need to work harder to develop those skills. The CIPD have some useful quizzes to help managers understand how their managerial style supports the wellbeing of their employees. This one looks specifically at behaviours and this one explores the barriers that may be holding managers back from supporting their team.

What internal communicators can do to reduce employee stress

As an internal communicator you have the gift of reach. You can communicate with a large proportion of your workforce in a way that few others in your organisation can. Your communications should span everything from prevention to support, from policies to individual stories. Here are our top tips to help reduce employee stress:

Talk about what your organisation is doing

If a new policy has been put in place or managerial stress awareness training is taking place – let your employees know. The more visible these initiatives are the more aware you employees will be of the importance your organisation places on mental health.

Ensure employees know where they can turn

As an organisation you will have multiple support mechanisms for employees experiencing extreme stress. Ensure you promote these regularly to make it as easy as possible for your employees to seek help. This will include internal support such as line managers, mental health first aiders and links to wellbeing benefits, but it is also useful to including links to external support networks such as the following:

Raise awareness of stress

Our greatest weapon against stress is awareness. Help employees understand the causes, symptoms and coping mechanisms for stress. Rethink Mental Illness has a useful guide which highlights the signs and causes of stress, together with some guidance on managing stress levels.  

Share stories

If you have any advocates who would be willing to share their story that could really help others. It can be very daunting to speak out. Seeing someone else’s story can give that little boost needed to take that first step.  

And finally, make sure you look after yourself

Whilst we are busy supporting others with their stress levels, we can sometimes forget about ourselves. Take a moment to complete this stress test to find out where your stress levels are. At the end you’ll also receive recommendations for things you can do to reduce your own stress.