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Workplace stress

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It’s not always easy to spot signs of workplace stress as everyone copes in different ways. Asking an employee or a colleague if they’re stressed offers no guarantees that they’ll tell you how they’re really feeling. But, spotting the signs early can help to prevent longer-term issues.

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Employers can play an active part in helping staff manage stress levels, while empowering employees to feel confident and comfortable when it comes to recognising and talking about it. After all, if employees are suffering from it, then so is the organisation.

With it being suggested that up to 40% of workplace sickness in the UK is stress-related, the wellbeing experts at CABA have identified the key signs to look out for. If you do spot some of these signs in others, it’s important to remember there is a solution. Read on for some tips on how to tackle the issue.

Working longer hours

Working extra hours and taking work home in the evenings and at weekends is a clear sign that an employee is struggling with workload and as a result, is probably finding it hard to ‘switch off’. Watch out for staff members forgetting to take lunch or breaks throughout the day too.

Managing a healthy work-life balance is not an easy thing to achieve. Some people feel it may negatively impact their career if they’re not seen to be working long hours, a factor that greatly influences this balance.

Encourage employees to turn off emails in the evening and especially at the weekend. Make sure you urge staff to raise concerns and flag capacity issues straight away. Introducing flexible working (if possible) can also help with achieving a better work-life balance, increasing productivity levels and most importantly, happiness.

Sickness levels

Have you noticed an employee take more time off than usual due to sickness? If so, they’re not alone. In the last 6 years the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24%. If you’re concerned about increased levels of illness from team members, take the matter up with your HR team.

Rest is proven to be an indispensable part of maintaining positive wellbeing and reducing stress levels. As well as ensuring employees take breaks during their working day, including taking a lunch break, it’s essential that employees should always use their full holiday entitlement. Recent research from The London Economic (TLE), suggests that the average Brit is only able to relax for 11 days a year. This is because many workers use their annual leave to complete chores and take personal appointments that cannot be done whilst at work.

Encourage employees to allocate some of their annual leave towards an extended break, such as a week off work relaxing. Keep an eye on those employees who are yet to use their holiday entitlement.

Ensuring holiday is taken throughout the year not only helps with staffing levels, but it can give employees a boost in morale if they have a break to look forward to.

Reacting unusually

Is an employee acting out of character? Are they irritable or overly quiet suddenly? Perhaps you’re noticing this person overreact in certain situations or become absent from social conversations.

Stress can make people feel isolated, and keeping things bottled up only makes it worse. Depending on your relationship, you could encourage them to get involved in activities that may help them cope better. For example, taking regular exercise often helps people see their concerns more clearly as well as deal with them more calmly. So why not suggest going for a walk in the fresh air or organise some team sports at work or at home?

Low morale

Has there been a notable change in morale or productivity? Seeming less energetic and enthused about work are indicators of low morale, which is a tell-tale sign that a person is suffering from stress or anxiety.

Talking to your employee about this is the first step in helping them. However, if you don’t feel comfortable having these discussions or feel the individual needs professional advice, encourage them to seek help from HR or their GP. You don’t have to be a stress counsellor, just a good listener – and allowing them to talk things through could help them find a solution to their problems.

High staff turnover

1 in 4 people consider resigning due to stress, therefore if you’re experiencing high turnover of staff in your organisation and some of the above are also ringing true, it could be due to workplace stress. Why not try a ‘suggestion box’ in the office and allow colleagues to propose ideas on how to make the office a happier environment.

With work dominating the lives of many, it’s not surprising that stress at work is a common complaint, so it’s important we all learn how to spot the signs, in ourselves and in others. Wellbeing charity CABA offers further information on understanding and managing stress at caba.org.uk.

About the author

Richard Jenkins, behavioural psychologist and CABA wellbeing consultant

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