The severity of stress cannot be understated and is on the rise. As Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4, highlights: “Across UK organisations, employee stress levels have risen by 20% over the past three decades and are continuing to increase.”
In order to combat this increase, we must first acknowledge the vast and disparate causes of stress.
“The challenges of the last two years alone have compounded the ever-growing modern stress epidemic, Jen Lawrence, CPO at Tax Systems expands, “from the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic to the rising cost of living, to the ever-growing skills gap.
Everyone is facing increasing workloads and pressure, but most especially in high-stress sectors that were already struggling with a skills shortage, namely technology and finance.”
The pandemic thrust a hybrid working structure upon workers overnight which did allow the cogs of business to continue turning. However, that is not to say it didn’t have an impact on the employees forced to adapt to this sudden change.
Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK, discusses the challenges of hybrid working. “To call the events of the last two years stressful is nothing short of an understatement. People in many professions navigated their way through unforeseen and difficult circumstances, which has inevitably taken its toll. This includes those in the IT industry, who have lived through constant change; with pressure to enable and support hybrid and remote working and to keep businesses up and running no matter what. It is no surprise that finding time to look after mental health too often dropped down the priority list.”
Matt Rider, VP of Security Engineering EMEA at Exabeam, discusses the added challenges those in the cybersecurity industry face on top of hybrid working: “Cybersecurity is one of the few industries (along with the likes of the military and national security services) that is constantly facing active opposition. The average security team, at all times, has a body of people actively working against them. And the stress of this is only exacerbated by the fact that this ‘champion defender’ aspect of our industry invariably attracts altruistic individuals. More often than not, cybersecurity professionals genuinely want to help each other, their customers, partners, vendors, even competitors (within the industry, not the adversaries!) often to their own detriment.”
Employers have a responsibility to provide resources and tools for their employees to access in order to relieve these pressures. Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager UK & Ireland at Ergotron, outlines what companies can do for their employees when it comes to managing stress: “Initiatives need to be led right from the top of organisations, with annual reviews replaced with ongoing mentorship and regular check-ins with workers to see how people are feeling.
“This could be anything from a comfortable workspace that supports your posture and enables you to be efficient, to ensuring you’re taking the right breaks, or that problems with workload, healthcare or lifestyle factors aren’t weighing on your mind. Finding creative ways for informal collaboration through technology – for instance Slack and Skype – give everyone access to say ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘I’m not OK’.”
Anne Tiedemann, SVP People & Investor Relations at Glasswall, follows: ”Practising mindfulness is one way organisations can tackle workplace stress – it encourages us to obtain a balanced mental state by taking time out in our day to concentrate on the present moment. When employees take this time for themselves, even if it’s just five minutes a day, it helps them to reset their minds and let go of any stress that has built up.”
Every year a theme is chosen for Stress Awareness Month and this year the theme is Community. As levels of loneliness and isolation have skyrocketed among workers due to the covid-induced hybrid working, community remains of utmost importance.
Simon Crawley-Trice, CEO of Six Degrees, discusses how his organisation is honouring the theme of community this month. “As we journey through the month of April, our qualified Mental Health First Aiders will host several initiatives across the business for both our employees and their line managers; raising awareness of the impact stress can have on an individual, providing them with tools that can support the management of stress and guiding leaders on successfully reducing stress within their teams.”
“At Axway we recognise the value of community in the workplace and how integral it is in combating stress,” adds Ann Lloyd, VP of Customer Success & Experience at Axway. “For this reason, we provide our employees with a number of support options. This includes our virtual ‘Coffee Chats’, which were born out of the pandemic to provide a space for the team to connect and have fun together.
These sessions were so successful and enjoyed that we continue to have them even with offices reopening. We also offer an informal mentor scheme that provides an ongoing sense of connection and support for all employees.”
While there are many external factors out of our control that impact our stress levels it is important to focus on what is within our power to control and use the strategies mentioned above for reducing stress. Kathy Doherty, HR Director EMEA at Cubic Corporation concludes, “Giving employees control over how and when they work not only helps reduce stress, but contributes to building a happier and more productive working culture. This Stress Awareness Month, and beyond, we urge all organisations to lead with communication and compassion – the benefits are tenfold.”