How to De-Stress Your Organisation

Work Related Stress

What is work-related stress

Work related stress is defined as the harmful reaction that people have to pressures and demands placed on them by work (HSE, 2015). Work related stress is subjective and consequently hard to measure but stress and related disorders such as, depression and anxiety continue to be a problem the UK workforce. Work related stress accounts for 35% of work related ill health and accounted for 43 days lost in 2014-2015. These illnesses and symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Disturbed sleep and insomnia
  • Heart rate changes
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Appetite suppression
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Depression
  • Stress and other mental health conditions are highlighted as causal factors in employee absences (CIPD Absence Management Survey 2006). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that stress costs businesses around £3.8 billion a year.

These figures show that stress is a real problem in today’s organisations. With the increase of mergers, acquisitions, organisational restructures and insecure working environments; many individuals may feel vulnerable and be overstretched at work.

Why is stress a problem in the workplace?

According to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE, 2015) the occupations and industries that report the highest rates of work related stress are the health and public sectors. The causes of work related stress are: a high workload, long working hours, a lack of managerial support and organisational change as primary factors (HSE, 2015).

If individuals feel that there is no-way out or feel they have no one to talk to, these aspects can increase the problem and lead to work based stress manifesting itself in physical and mental illness. These illnesses and symptoms can lead to high levels of absenteeism, presenteeism, a lack of motivation and a high level of employee turnover.


Based on the causes highlighted above what can workplaces and individuals actually do to minimise the increasing problem of work related stress?

1.Develop open communication channels

Many organisations may feel they have open communication but sometimes the reality is it is rarely ever seen. Having open communication channels means having an environment where all employees -regardless of position- can voice opinions, concerns and have an opportunity to really be heard.

Open communication can mean talking by having less formalised meetings, regular catch-up with employees, encouraging teams to reflect on work, sharing information with colleagues constructively and collaborating with each other to develop solutions.

Some individuals may not feel comfortable talking internally to work employees about stresses. Providing outlets such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can really help. EAPs are external providers who offer counselling programmes, advice on financial, marital, legal and other issues to employees. Many organisations offer these services to individuals within the organisation for free as part of a benefits deal. These can go some way to relieve work based stress.

Developing open communication channels is something that is easier said than done, but with perseverance and a desire to actually listen, this can be something that can be developed and incorporated by any organisation. Many of the workplace stress issues such as high workload can be decreased by employees having the chance to voice their opinions.

2.Have people/line managers that are separate from technical specialists

In the ‘olden days’ individuals were given promotions and people management responsibilities when they showed competence based on their technical ability, or when they were seen to be reaching or exceeding their prescribed goals. The problem with this model, which is still adopted by many organisations today, is that not all people who are good at their jobs are actually good at managing people.

Having a system where people managers are chosen based on their ability to encourage people, empower and increase personal development may help line managers who have difficulties managing their day-to-day work with their people management responsibilities. A key benefit is here you have the ability to let people who are skilled technically get on with what they are good at without overloading them. This leaves the highly skilled people managers the ability to drive engagement and increase wellbeing.

3.Create and maintain a well-being strategy

By this I mean not just the short term fixes, like having annual wellbeing days where you bring in a Yoga instructor and a masseuse. Strategies should start with an internal organisational structure, values and culture. Is stress really a problem in the organisation? What to business owners, CEO/Senior leadership think about stress? Is it positive or negative? Can these views be changed to show the real impact of employee stress in the workplace? These are the questions you will need to ask yourself before developing a strategy.

4.Increase levels of autonomy

Similar to solution 1, (opening communication channels) increasing levels of choice and autonomy can give individuals a sense of ownership and control over their working lives. These can be by: changing to flexible working hours, (introducing core hours and encouraging people to work around these core hours as long as their hours are completed). This simple move can allow people to feel more trusted and valued in the workplace.

Introduce working from home. Giving employees the flexibility to manage their own work to fit around commitments such as appointments and childcare by working from a what they think by including them in decision making processes and procedures can also increase autonomy and increase feelings of employee ownership and motivation.

5.Cultivate a learning culture

People are not just one dimensional. Individuals bring to work, knowledge, feelings, wishes and fears. To help employees feel valued at work, introduce a suite of learning and development courses and strategies to really develop individuals. This does not have to be expensive, utilizing the skills of individuals within the organisation can also be a way to develop other people within.

Developing extracurricular sports teams, social interest groups, talks, presentations can all encourage a learning environment that encourages and supports people. These things do not have to be organisationally driven, they can and mostly are developed organically by employees themselves. Some of these things do not have to be work related, encouraging people to try new things and explore hobbies can also be positively related to wellbeing and can decrease stress.

6.Ensure fairness and equity

Another source of work placed stress are feelings of unfairness or inequity. When an individual puts effort in and is not rewarded with a fair output, this leads to feelings of inequity. When individuals are treated badly, bullied, or harassed by work colleagues, clients or customers; this also increases levels of work place stress.

To try and remove feelings of unfairness, inequity and inequality you can consider these things:

  • Perform a diversity audit- these audits reveal where the trends and workforce pipelines. From this you can determine where there maybe issues with diversity and action plans can be based on this.
  • Communicate about fairness and equity. Research this by using focus groups, individual interviews and looking at statistics.
  • Use a reflective form of review, either 180 or 360 degree appraisal systems to give both fair and objective reviews of performance. If there is a fairness and inequality issue these appraisals can be used to find out trends and opinions in the organisation if used alongside a diversity audit.
  • Try and use these tools periodically, not just on a one-off basis. To increase and develop fair organisations the organisational culture and practices should include equity as part of day-to-day operations.

To conclude, de-stressing organisations does not begin and end with short term fixes. Longer term considerations such as: communicating, developing people managers, valuing wellbeing, championing diversity, increasing autonomy and cultivating a learning culture will allow you to monitor, increase and maintain employee wellbeing efforts.

Source: So Many Pies Blog

Grace Mansah- Owusu

Guest Blogger

Grace is a business psychologist and writer who enjoys helping organisations solve human resource problems. She has worked in a number of sectors such as: education, transport, telecommunications and hospitality.

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February 1, 2017

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