Stressed woman suffering from a burnout

Stress is something that can affect us all on any given day, but for some it can become overwhelming and lead to mental health problems.

This month heralded National Stress Awareness Day – a welcomed opportunity to shine a light on stress prevention. But while initiatives like these are great at raising awareness, it’s important that the conversation around mental health and wellbeing continues all year round.

Stats have shown that as many as one in four of us will suffer from poor mental health and work is the biggest cause of employee stress (59 per cent), ahead of family pressures and money worries.

With the average person spending one third of their lives at work, it’s crucial that businesses find solutions to manage employee stress levels, and tackle the stigma around mental health that sadly still persists.

How to get started

Combatting stress in the workplace starts with ensuring mental health is taken as seriously as physical health. Employee wellbeing is something all companies, big and small, should focus on so that employees feel safe and comfortable saying “I’m not ok.”

Creating a culture where talking about mental health is seen as the norm will make it much easier for people to raise any issues that may be troubling them. If left unchecked, stress can impact staff engagement and productivity and result in companies losing talent altogether, with a shocking 300,000 people suffering from long-term mental health problems leaving their job every year.

To promote positive mental health, we should start by helping employees to switch off. Two fifths of people check their emails at least five times a day outside of working hours and worryingly, nearly one in five (17%) said remote working makes them feel anxious or affects their sleep. Yet, despite working longer hours than ever yet before, our productivity is sliding down the scale, suggesting that a ‘permanently on’ culture is detrimental to our performance.

In a bid to strike a healthier work/life balance, employees should be encouraged to work sensible hours, take their full lunch break away from their desk and not feel worried or judged for doing so. Managers should also keep an eye on the holiday rota and gently remind those who still have holiday to take, while ensuring that there is adequate cover so they don’t feel under pressure to work while away.

Empower managers

For those employees suffering from stress, it’s vital they don’t do so in silence. Businesses need to know how to recognise the signs of stress – whether that be a change in behaviour or physical symptoms such as tiredness – and how to raise the issue with those affected.

The introduction of mental first aiders in the workplace as the go-to person for anyone experiencing a mental health issue has been a great step in the right direction, but training and awareness should be extended to other members of staff too if we’re going to make a real difference.

Providing all managers with mental health training can go a long way towards helping employees open up. Research published earlier this year revealed almost a third of UK employees do not feel comfortable talking to their manager about mental health problems for fear of being judged or ostracised. Of those who did open up, 17% believe they were misunderstood and more than a fifth came away from the conversation feeling no better.

Training will help managers learn how to be approachable, how to listen, what to say if someone is struggling and importantly – where to guide them for the best help and support.

Different people will find different situations and workloads stressful, so ensuring managers are trained and have regular, two-way communication with their team will help them spot if someone is struggling to cope.

In a nutshell, companies who pay attention to staff wellbeing are much more likely to have a happier, more engaged workforce. They are also much more likely to attract new talent, with three fifths of millennials citing mental health counseling and wellness counseling as highly valuable in a job. As we move into the future, businesses cannot afford to overlook the mental wellbeing of their staff, as it is too important to ignore.

About the author

Aliya started her HR career in 1996 and co-founded JourneyHR in 2010. Aliya has predominantly worked in the communications industry reporting in at board level at Aegis Media, Naked Communications, Media Planning Group and lastminute.com. She applies commercial focus and business psychology to HR and continues to influence business owners in the marketing and communications industry on innovative people practices.

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