- What is stress exactly?
- Top 9 causes of stress in the workplace
- How common is workplace stress these days?
- 10 symptoms of workplace stress
- Can a little stress be a good thing, and when does it get too much?
- 5 ways you can tell a colleague is stressed
- 5 ways workplace stress affects the human body
- 10 self-help methods to reduce stress naturally
- How coaching and mentoring reduces workplace stress
- How office design can help relieve stress levels
- Managing workplace stress in practice
- Monitoring stress levels in the workplace
How many times have you heard someone say “oh, I’m stressed”?
It’s probably quite a common occurrence and you’ve probably said it yourself a time or two, probably even over the course of the last day!
We all use the word ‘stress’ to mean something quite haphazard or unimportant, but the truth of the matter is quite different.
Stress is dangerous.
Stress can be a killer.
Workplace stress is something we need to be aware of and handle.
Stress can occur at any time in your life, for a myriad of different reasons, but workplace stress is one of the most common types you’ll experience. Of course, it could be that you’re experiencing family problems, relationship problems, money problems at home and these are spilling over into your work life, but work, in particular, is often one of the biggest causes of stress overall.
Because stress is so dangerous, managers need to be clued up on what stress looks like. Not every employee is going to come out and say “I feel overwhelmed”, or “I feel stressed”. There is still a rather unfair stigma attached to this word which causes people to try and stay quite and deal with the issue themselves.
The problem with that approach is that keeping things bottled up and trying to deal with it alone only leads to further stress and burn out.
If you want to handle stress effectively, either for yourself or one of your employees, you need to know what it looks like, what it feels like, what it causes, and how to deal with it.
Handily for you, this guide is going to cover all of those bases and more!
What is Stress Exactly?
The complicated thing about stress, be it regular stress or workplace stress, is that it isn’t actually about an actual situation or problem, it’s your human reaction to that situation or problem.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as the following:
“The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”
This can be your mind running out of control, overthinking, panicking, imagining worst-case scenarios, or simply throwing yourself into work to the point where you don’t allow yourself downtime.
One person may deal with one particular situation perfectly well, without anything bothering them in the slightest, whilst another person may feel out of control, overwhelmed, and unable to cope.
Stress is a very individual deal and employers need to ensure that roles and tasks are matched to individual employees as a result. You can’t throw someone in at the deep end and expect them to swim if they don’t have the experience or the confidence to complete that particular role. In that case, you’re literally begging for stress to enter the equation.
Over time, stress eats away at a person’s confidence, their self-esteem, their level of self-worth, their physical health, emotional health, and their mental health.
Stress is not something you should be taking lightly, either as an employee or an employer, and it’s important to place a huge amount of importance upon this subject, if you want to remain healthy for yourself, and if you want to ensure a healthy and supportive working environment for your employees.
Check out this video for a more visual take on the real definition of stress in the workplace.
Top 9 Causes of Stress in The Workplace
So, what can cause stress?
Literally anything if we’re being honest, but there are certain situations which are thought to be more prevalent than others.
Within a workplace situation, the main areas related to a heightened stress response are:
- The demands you place on your employees, e.g. deadlines/targets and whether they are fair and proportionate or not
Unfair workload, e.g. one employee having more to do than another is going to cause resentment to breed and is certainly going to cause a workplace stress response. When someone has a deadline to meet, there is always going to be a small amount of stress, and that can in some ways act as a motivator; however, when that stress is too much and too prolonged, it becomes dangerous.
Any deadline or target you set for your employees should be fair, proportionate and realistic.
- The amount of control you have over your employees, e.g. unfair supervision and not allowing employees to feel that they have control over their own workload
If an employee feels like they’re constantly being watched and assessed, they’re going to be terrified about making a mistake all the time! This isn't the most productive way to work and it’s certainly a breeding ground for work stress to occur.
Trust your employees and allow them to manage their own workload in a way which suits them best.
- The amount of support you give, or don’t give, to your employees
Another big reason for stress in the workplace is employees who don’t feel supported at all. In this case, they’re out on their own, expected to know what to do and how to do is, with little or no training. This pressure is not only unfair but is certainly going to cause them to feel stressed quite quickly.
Having an open-door policy and letting your employees know that they can come and ask for advice at any time is a far better way forward.
- Whether team relationships with colleagues are positive or negative
Workplace conflict can certainly cause stress but also colleagues who simply don’t gel or get along. This can cause people to avoid one another, and in a working situation, this isn’t productive or easy. Everyone needs to work together in order to benefit from team working methods, but when certain employees feel under fire from another employee, it’s going to cause stress and anxiety to occur.
- The role an employee is in, and whether it is suited to their ability or not
It’s important for employers to ensure that the type of tasks given to employees are matched directly to their skills and experience. If you give an employee a task which they have no direct experience of and they’re struggling to understand, they’re going to quickly become stressed and place extra pressure upon themselves to succeed.
Yes, in some cases, this might push them to excel, but in most case,s it will lead to stress and burnout instead.
- The amount of change going on within a workplace and how often these changes occur
Regular change is a big cause of workplace stress. Employees need to feel safe and secure in their role in order to be settled and successful. If you’re constantly pulling the rug out from underneath their feet every other week, they’re never going to feel like they know what they’re doing or who they’re supposed to report to.
- Morale within the office environment, e.g. whether staff feel valued and listened to, or not
If employees don’t feel valued then they’re not going to feel happy or secure in their role. As a result, they will feel stressed in a slightly different way. This isn't a response to pressure per se, but a response to feeling untrusted and unworthy in their role. It’s far better to have a management team who regularly listen and respond to problems voiced by employees, helping everyone to feel safe and secure in their roles.
- The quality of management within the organisation
Without a doubt, one of the biggest reasons for workplace stress is a poor management team. In this case, all of the above problems will rear their heads and everyone will feel out of control.
Poor management is responsible for a myriad of issues. Check out the infographic below to show you just how bad this type of problem can be for a business and its employees.
Source - https://www.inc.com/maeghan-ouimet/real-cost-bad-bosses.html
9. An uncomfortable or supportive office design
If you have uncomfortable desks and chairs, everything placed in the wrong area, and people are suffering from aches and pains as a result of their day in the office, how can you expect them to feel positive and not at all stressed?
Ensuring that the office is designed in a way which is productive, comfortable and supportive means that employees have everything they need to work well within their space, and that they don’t have anything else adding to their stress levels, aside from the work they’re doing!
As we mentioned before, workplace stress can also be caused, or contributed to, by an outside influence. This can when an employee is experiencing problems at home and as a result, they feel less productive or less focused in their job. This leads them to perhaps make mistakes and miss deadlines, causing a stress response and extra pressure.
How Common is Workplace Stress These Days?
According to a 2018 Workplace Stress Survey done by Perkbox, stress is on the rise. These workplace stress statistics are quite startling, and really show the prevalence of this issue in today’s busy modern office.
Let’s summarise a few of the key findings from that particular survey, to really open your eyes to the problem we’re facing.
- 59% of adults said that if they experience stress, work is the most likely cause of it
- 21% of adults report stress that could be described as moderate to high more than once per week
- The most common causes of work stress according to this survey are long working hours, worries about how well they’re performing at work, and office politics, e.g. relationships with colleagues and conflicts in the office
- 25% of those reporting stress said they didn’t feel as productive at work as a result
- 1 in 10 people say that they take sick days from work because of stress
That’s quite a worrying picture, isn’t it?
A little later in this guide we’re going to talk about what stress does to the human body, and when you combine these statistics with what you’re going to learn shortly, you’ll really understand that stress management in the workplace is not just something we should be doing, but something we MUST be doing.
This can be done in so many different ways, and it might even be as simple as ensuring that staff have active working methods at their disposal, such as stand height tables, to hep them get a boost of exercise during the day. It might be that they need an ergonomic chair because their back has been hurting, or maybe the design of the office just needs tweaking slightly to make everything more comfortable.
Of course, it could also come down to changing workloads and ensuring targets aren’t too rigid or unrealistic.
10 Symptoms of Workplace Stress
From person to person, workplace stress may look and feel slightly different, but it still affects the body in the same dangerous ways. Check out this infographic below which not only talks a little more about what may cause stress, but also talks about some of the symptoms you might feel or notice.
Source - https://visual.ly/community/infographic/health/workplace-stress-signs-symptoms-treatment
In terms of the main symptoms of stress, they can vary and can be mild, moderate, or severe. You may experience them all, you may experience just a few.
The most common 10 symptoms of work stress are:
- Heart palpitations
- Muscular tensions, aches and pains
- Problems sleeping
- Stomach upsets
- Irritability with those around you
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing
- An increase in mistakes
- Isolating yourself from those around you and in your social life also
The effects of stress can cause mental health problems to occur, such as anxiety and depression.
Can a Little Stress be a Good Thing, And When Does it Get Too Much?
We should touch upon the point that a little stress can actually be a good thing.
Shortly we’re going to talk about the stress response within the human body and why it happens, but from that, you’ll also be able to understand that it can be a motivator too.
When our body senses a threat or a need to do something quickly, it floods our system with adrenaline and other stress hormones, such as cortisol. This helps us do what we need to do, and perhaps survive whatever threat is coming our way. A pending deadline can be seen in the same way.
So, those hormones and adrenaline can be used to help you achieve the quick deadline you need to meet. This can motivate you to get it done, tick off that box and achieve your aim. However, this response is only meant to be short-lived. If that stress response continues, that is when it can all become a rather dangerous and unhealthy picture.
5 Ways You Can Tell a Colleague is Stressed
When we’re collaborating around the boardroom tables or we’re trying to work together to reach a target within the office, we need to know that everyone is pulling in the same direction. The problem with stress is that it causes you to performance and react in a slightly different and perhaps slower way than you normally would.
If you want your team efforts to be high quality, it’s important to be on the lookout for any signs that your colleagues are feeling the strain. Of course, from a human point of view, it’s always nice to look out for one another.
So, we know the main symptoms of stress, i.e. what you might experience if you were under stress, but how can you tell if someone else is feeling the pressure?
Stress can be quite easy to hide in some ways, and because there is such an unfair stigma attached to workplace stress, it’s easy to try and hold everything inside. Of course, understanding what is work stress and knowing that it can affect anyone helps.
Look out for these 5 signs that one of your colleagues might be under a little stress of their own.
- They’re making uncharacteristic mistakes
- They seem a little panicky or agitated
- They’re not as chatty or sociable as they normally would be
- They don’t seem to be able to focus or concentrate to the standard you’re used to from them
- They take uncharacteristic days off sick
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that if you notice one of these signs, it’s not necessarily the case that your colleague is feeling stressed, but a few linked together really does give the whole picture.
The good news is that when the focus is placed on strategies for managing stress in the workplace as a whole, everyone can benefit and everyone can help one another.
5 Ways Workplace Stress Affects The Human Body
As we touched upon a little earlier, the stress response within the human body is actually designed to keep us all safe. This dates back to the days when cavemen and cavewomen roamed the Earth, trying to stay out of the way of rather large-toothed predators.
The body developed a response which allowed them to forage for the food they needed, but also to allow them to respond to danger if and when it occurred.
The good news is that we no longer have rather scary beasts to run away from when we’re trying to find our dinner for the day, but we do face other threats instead.
Our brains and bodies have adapted to the ways in which we live in the modern world, but the same stress response remains. That means your brain is always looking out for threats, but it sometimes misjudges what a threat is and how dangerous it could be for you.
You become stressed over small things and the effects last longer.
The stress response causes life-saving hormones to flood through the body to give you the energy and focus you need to deal with the problem, and one of those hormones is called cortisol.
Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’. It’s meant to dissipate when there is no longer a threat, but if your body misjudges it, the cortisol remains in your system. This is when the danger sets in because it’s not really meant to be there!
Check out this infographic which talks about the damaging ways in which stress affects the human body.
Source - https://www.heartmath.com/blog/health-and-wellness/how-stress-affects-the-body/
As you can see, stress is no joking matter!
To break it down into simplistic measures, the 5 ways in which stress mainly affects the human body are:
- Heart strain, with an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and even diabetes
- Drastically increases your risk of developing anxiety and depression
- May cause you to gain weight because cortisol is linked with weight gain
- Affects your ability to sleep, which can cause other sleep deprivation health risks
- Causes headaches and dizziness, which may lead to falls or accidents
Stress is a serious business. Whilst it might be not be recognised as an illness on its own per se, it can certainly make you very sick indeed.
10 Self-Help Methods to Reduce Stress Naturally
Shortly we’re going to talk about stress from a workplace perspective in terms of what an employer can do for their employees. This can be providing breakout spaces with sofas, tub chairs, mesh chairs, and other relaxing spots, it can be providing booths for quiet work, or it can be ensuring that everyone is comfortable in their office space.
For you, however, there are some self-help methods you can try which may help to relieve mild stress quite quickly.
Dealing with stress in the workplace is a two-pronged attack - it comes from the employer and the employee.
- Talk about the problem with someone you trust - Talking usually helps to put things into perspective
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night
- Make exercise a key part of your daily routine
- Focus on your health and wellbeing by eating a balanced and nutritious diet
- Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking too much, smoking, going out too much, etc
- Place importance upon relaxation - Try meditation or simply make time for yourself and the things you enjoy, such as a book and a hot bath
- Use deep breathing exercises to calm you down - Try breathing in through your nose for a count of five (slowly), pause for a few seconds, and then exhale through your mouth in the same slow manner. Try this whenever you feel your stress rising to panic attack levels
- Try a new time management technique which may help you gain control over your life, as well as the work you do at your office desk
- Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day and don’t try and force yourself to do more
- Try mindfulness - This is a method which forces you to stay in the here and now, rather than jumping ahead to living in the future or thinking back throughout the past. This can be very effective for stress as it helps you to keep things in perspective.
We’ve just mentioned mindfulness, which is an extremely useful technique in many different ways. Check out this video which explains the theory a little more.
Whilst stress is certainly something which should be dealt with within the workplace, these techniques can help you deal with the effects, as well as being put to good use during stressful times in your general life too.
How Coaching And Mentoring Reduces Workplace Stress
Now it’s time to get practical!
We know what is work stress, we know that stress in the workplace UK statistics aren’t pretty reading, and we know that if you want to reduce stress, you have to first acknowledge the problem and then do something about it.
In the next few sections, we’re going to talk about how to monitor stress levels in the workplace and specific stress management interventions in the workplace that can be used easily and quickly by employers and employees alike.
One method which may be useful is something called coaching or mentoring.
Check out this infographic which talks about what this specific technique is about.
Source - https://www.smf.org.uk/mentoring/
So, how could mentoring or coaching actually be an effective stress management in the workplace technique?
The very basis of mentoring or coaching is that it gives you support and relief. It allows you to ask questions when you need to and it lets you work through problems systemically, rather than panicking and thinking that you have to deal with everything on your own.
This type of technique is useful for new, young, or inexperienced employees, but if an employee is feeling particularly stressed or under pressure, a period of mentorship should be a good way to give them the support they need, in order to overcome the issue.
How Office Design Can Help Relieve Stress Levels
Next up, what about how an office is designed? Could this help to reduce or relieve stress levels?
Indeed it could!
Sometimes the very design of an office can be the cause of stress in the workplace to start with. If an office is designed in a way which makes everything difficult, if office furniture is uncomfortable or unsupportive, and if it’s all causing aches and pains, it’s easy for someone to become stressed.
In addition, if office storage units are placed in the wrong area, if they’re overcrowded and don’t make it easy to find paperwork required, this can waste time, adding pressure onto an already busy day.
In this case, assessing the workplace and looking at how improvements can be made is key.
Ask your employees what changes they think need to be made and take their suggestions and advice seriously. By doing this, you may be able to relieve several different causes of workplace stress in one go.
Managing Workplace Stress in Practice
Let’s lump everything together in one place here.
What strategies for managing stress in the workplace are useful?
Check out this list and see how many you can start to work on in your office space.
- Adopt an open-door policy for your employees to come and talk to management whenever they have a problem
- Knockdown the stigma attached to stress and ensure that everyone feels able to discuss how they’re feeling without judgement or worries
- Ensure the office is designed in a way which makes work easier and more productive
- Ensure that everyone is comfortable at their office workstations
- Look towards team-working methods to ensure that everyone feels supported and not out on a limb, alone
- Ensure that job roles are suited to the experience and skills of the employee
- Make sure that any deadlines or targets you set are realistic and appropriate
- Allow employees to give you feedback and take their suggestions seriously
- Ensure that everyone has the necessary training and make sure this is always up to date
- Place focus on health and wellbeing within the workplace, by offering confidential counselling services to employees who may be struggling with any outside issues
- Give stress management training to employees as part of their regular training schedule
- If a member of staff approaches management and reports stress, take their complaint seriously and give them the support and help they need.
None of these stress management interventions in the workplace are particularly difficult to achieve, which is what makes the prevalence of stress so confusing. We can all do a lot to reduce stress, but we need to do it together, particularly when it comes to management.
Monitoring Stress Levels in The Workplace
Finally, now we know how to reduce stress, how can we monitor it to make sure that levels don’t become dangerous or overwhelming for employees?
Much of this comes down to adopting the methods mentioned in the last section. If you can do that, you can be sure that stress levels will rarely reach dangerous levels.
- Having the same open-door policy we mentioned will give employees the confidence to go and talk to their manager if they feel they’re struggling
- Any targets or deadlines which are implemented should be assessed for fairness
- Regular stress risk assessments should be done on new roles or tasks, or whenever extra work is added to a particular section of the team
- The office should be regularly reviewed to ensure that no part of its design is contributing to, or causing, additional stress for any employee
Because stress isn’t something you can see, only something you can feel, its difficult to really put a level or gauge on it. This makes it very hard to measure, however, you can assess levels by the effect stress has on work and productivity.
Regularly check productivity levels and see if you can notice any dips. If so, look at why that might be and keep stress at the front of your mind as a possible reason.
The importance of workplace stress should never be underestimated. This is a condition which isn’t an illness in its own right, but it can cause effects which can lead to serious bodily health problems. We’re talking about your heart here, your mental health, and everything beyond that.
Taking stress seriously is something we all need to do, and the stigma which is still unfairly connected to anyone who decides to take a break and go off work for a little while as a result of stress needs to be kicked out immediately.
As a workplace, support should be at the forefront of your mind. Yes, business productivity is important but ensuring that everyone’s comfortable and healthy is far more vital.