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Aura’s guide to identifying, managing and preventing stress in the workplace

Man sitting on sofa against the wall looking stressed

Introduction

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that in 2019, 12.8 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety; a number which has increased in recent years[1]. Although a topic which has been widely discussed for a number of years, it would appear that much more still needs to be done when it comes to supporting employees and their mental health at work.

This guide aims to use recent studies to highlight the importance of the problem and how it can impact employees’ working lives, before providing thoughts and suggestions on how workplace stress can be dealt with, managed and prevented.

How many of us are dealing with workplace stress?

To jump straight in and highlight the facts, 1 in 5 of us in the UK are suffering with work-related stress that occurs several times per week. This stress can manifest itself in several ways, with loss of sleep, anxiety and disrupted concentration/productivity at the top of the list[2].

Although this data represents the tip of an iceberg, the aim of this guide is to explain rather than overwhelm, so we’ve chosen to focus on HSE’s top 3 causes of workplace stress in order to provide some valuable measures to help you support your employees more effectively.

Man sitting on sofa against the wall looking stressed

What are the top causes of workplace stress, depression or anxiety?

According to 2019 data supplied by HSE, workload is one of the biggest workplace stressors, with 44% of over 600,000 surveyed citing this as the main cause for stress, depression or anxiety in the workplace. The second cause is lack of support at 14%, followed by violence, threats or bullying at 13%[3]. While these figures may seem a little shocking, the good news is that there’s a lot that employers can do to boost support for their employees and prevent causers or exacerbators of common mental health conditions in the workplace.  As we progress through this guide, we’ll highlight effective ways in which you can support your employees.

Are there areas of the country which are more affected by workplace stress than others?

We’ve done some number crunching using data from both Public Health England and the Office of National Statistics to explore which areas of England struggle the most (and least) with workplace stress, anxiety and depression. You may find this information useful as a starting point to determine the potential severity of mental health issues in your area.

The below graphics highlight the top areas of England where common mental health conditions are most, and least prevalent.

The top 10 areas of England where stress, anxiety and depression are most prevalent.
The top 10 areas of England where stress, anxiety and depression are least prevalent.*Content within both graphics is supplied from PHE and the ONS.

How to deal with and prevent workplace stress

In this section of the guide we aim to explore what avenues employers can take to try and reduce workplace stress for their employees based on workload, lack of support and bullying/violence. We’ve broken this section down into these areas to address these areas in more detail.

Workload

We appreciate that it may not always be possible to employ additional team members to help alleviate workload for every employee, but there are plenty of ways for businesses to be inventive in helping people to manage their work as best possible. Aside from removing some work where feasible, what else can you do to help?

  • Help your team to prioritise their work – agreeing with your reports which tasks and projects need to take precedent (and perhaps more importantly, which ones aren’t as urgent) will help your team schedule their time more effectively. However, it’s important to be reassuring, respectful and not too overbearing in this process. While increased workload can be a stressor for many, others are impacted negatively when they feel underutilised in the workplace.
  • Are you as organised as you could be? Smart online planning or project management software does more than just help businesses organise their time. Managers can act smartly and use them to organise time and tasks appropriately according to demand, priority, a reports skill level and their capacity to take on new tasks (with their mental health in mind). Whether large projects or high-volume bite-size tasks are your game, you can ensure communication is at its best and tasks are managed effectively through intuitive software. If you want to ensure any new software is perfect for your organisation, we offer bespoke software development services to meet specific business requirements.
  • Discourage multi-tasking – some studies show that multi-tasking may actually harm team productivity[4] by interfering with certain types of brain activity. So, it’s something you should actively be discouraging.

What can you do to support your workforce?

  • Make your best effort to be approachable and communicate to your employees that you encourage them to talk to you whenever they need support. Operating an open-door policy can also help to eliminate problems earlier on, especially if employees talk to you before issues escalate too much.
  • Make sure your employees know that you take mental health as seriously as physical health and organise regular one-to-ones within your teams to create an open and communicative atmosphere.
  • Take the time to run or allow employees to attend mental health workshops or awareness training sessions – you could utilise mental health awareness week (taking place 18-24 May 2020) to have an external company that specialises in wellbeing to come in to run a workshop.
  • Be clear that if staff are dealing with mental health problems – just like they would if they were suffering from a physical illness – they’re permitted to call in and take the time off to seek medical help and support.

People sitting round a table taking part in a workshop
Violence, threats and bullying

It’s unfortunate that this is still a problem for 13% of UK workers, so it’s important to have strict measures in place to identify and resolve any bullying or violence. Taking many forms, bullying can span everything from humiliation and ridicule to setting unmanageable workloads, sending offensive emails and much, much more.

Your first step may be to make the company’s antibullying policy explicitly clear to the workforce and ensure that a bullying culture is not deemed as the norm for your business, as if this is the case, employees may either leave the business or feel like they simply need to put up with it. This isn’t always easy to spot if you’re not looking for it, so it’s important that you regularly check in with your employees at all levels of the organisation; let them know that your door is always open and that they can always speak to you in confidence.  It’s also the employer’s responsibility to make sure there are effective policies in place that can deal with any allegations of bullying, violence or threats in the workplace in a way that’s fair, responsible, sensitive, understanding and supportive of the impact that negative workplace experiences can have on employees’ mental wellness.

You’re also going to want to make sure that your workforce can spot bullying or threatening behaviour, so consider rolling out training sessions and leadership development opportunities to employees across all levels of your organisation. You may also want to try and nurture a wellbeing culture in the office, by proactively doing as much as you can to reduce stress in the workplace[5] before it becomes an issue. One way of doing this could be to try and put in place systems that will help your business avoid workplace bullying entirely wherever possible. This could take the form of a risk assessment, such as the 5-step risk assessment developed by HSE:

  1. Identify the hazard by defining and listing unacceptable behaviour
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Estimate the risks and chance of harm
  4. Record any significant findings
  5. Review your risk assessment regularly

Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs)

Having one or even several trained MHFAs is also a great way to support your workforce as they can act as a first point of contact for anyone seeking help. Different programmes are available which are designed to build employees’ confidence, encourage people to seek help early on, promote a mentally healthy environment[6] and much more. MFHA England is a good place to start your search for training sessions, as they host a variety of different courses to fit with your business.

Can technology help?

There are ample tools and guides online (such as this one) to help you get a handle on stress and mental health in the workplace. We’ve already mentioned a helpful technological tool through planning or project management software, but what else could help?

Apps

Don’t worry if you can’t afford to give all your employees their own work mobile phones, but as an indicator as of 2019, 79% of UK adults own a smart phone, and unsurprisingly, data usage is only on the rise[7]. This highlights the value of providing access to helpful apps such as Calmer, Headspace and Talkspace. Apps such as these will aid in employee wellbeing; either by offering reports, virtual counselling or helping them to process experiences, track their wellbeing and manage their mental health. Alternatively, a company benefit could include membership to a selection of mental health apps, such as Moodfit which is specifically designed to help with stress, anxiety or depression management. Visit verywellmind.com for more highly regarded mental health apps.

Wearable tech

Fitness watches and pedometers can help promote wellbeing through firstly offering the ability to track and record physical signs of stress, but also as a prompt to take breaks and stretch your legs. Many studies show that constant sitting puts employees at greater risk of diabetes, depression and obesity – and that regular breaks aid physical and emotional health.

Virtual GPs

There are lots of different ways to access virtual GPs today, and through partnering with one, you can offer your employees round the clock support for their health and wellbeing. Here’s a small selection of virtual GPs to consider for your workforce:

Additional tools

There are plenty of tools available online which can help you support your workforce, improving both physical and mental health; one of which we’ve come across is Mental Health at Work, created by Mind, the mental health charity. This site is packed full of useful resources, including toolkits, videos, courses, podcasts and much more.

[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf

[2] https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/interactive-the-2018-uk-workplace-stress-survey

[3] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf

[4] https://gethppy.com/talent-management/multitasking-hurts-team-productivity

[5] https://www.autoenrolment.co.uk/guides/workplace-bullying

[6] https://mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace/#how-we-can-support-you

[7] https://www.finder.com/uk/mobile-internet-statistics