Stress causes a lot of problems if left unchecked and can have a severe detrimental impact on employee wellbeing, motivation and overall productivity. For that reason, reducing stress in the workplace is essential when it comes to remaining happy and efficient at work.
Knowing exactly how to mitigate work-related pressure, though, is easier said than done. That’s why in this article we’ll be running through eight methods you can use to reduce your stress levels as an employee, enabling you to continue to love your job without harming your mental health.
The impact of stress in the workplace
Without a doubt, stress can be one of the most daunting and destructive obstacles to employee engagement in the modern-day workplace. According to a 2017/18 Labour Force Survey (LFS), a total of 15.4 million working days have been lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
Considering that employees usually get paid for sick days, the financial loss as a result of stress-related issues is enormous. Moreover, it appears that such issues are on the rise, too, with approximately 1,700 people per 100,000 workers reported to be suffering from stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18, compared to an estimated 1,400 in 2005/06.
It has also been reported that stress, depression and anxiety are more prevalent in public health service industries such as education, health and social care, and public administration and defence.
The main work factors cited by survey respondents as causing work-related stress were workload pressures (including tight deadlines), too much responsibility and the absence of managerial support.
There are countless statistics relating to workplace stress that could be referenced, but the point is clear. Stress, in any form, can dramatically impact your wellbeing as an employee and harm the efficiency of the organisation you work for. Learning how to reduce it is vital.
8 ways to reduce stress in the workplace
Thankfully, stress in the workplace isn’t something we’re forced to accept. There are measures that can be taken to reduce work-related stress and even enhance your ability to do your job.
1. Recognise the signs of stress
Before being able to reduce your stress levels, it’s important that you’re aware of the key symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Thankfully, leading mental health charity, Mind, provides a comprehensive list of all of the telltale signs of stress. Mind separates these symptoms into feelings, behaviours and physical sensations.
- irritable, aggressive, impatient or wound up;
- anxious, nervous or afraid;
- like your thoughts are racing and you can’t switch off; or
- unable to enjoy yourself.
- Finding it hard to make decisions.
- Constantly worrying.
- Avoiding situations that are troubling you.
- Snapping at people.
- Biting your nails.
- Picking at your skin.
- Shallow breathing or hyperventilating.
- You might have a panic attack.
- Muscle tension.
- Blurred eyesight or sore eyes.
- Problems getting to sleep, staying asleep or having nightmares.
- Sexual problems, such as losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex.
If you recognise any of the above symptoms in yourself, you may be exhibiting signs of workplace stress.
2. Identify the cause of your stress
After recognising the signs that you’re feeling stressed, the next step is to identify the root cause of your emotions. What exactly is it that’s causing you to feel troubled at work?
For many of us, it’s the workload we’re expected to take care of. We feel that there’s just too much responsibility on our shoulders and that we’re being stretched too thin to cope. For others, it might be a demanding boss or unkind colleagues that are making us feel as though it’s all getting too much.
Whatever it is, just make a mental note of it. Become familiar with the cause of your stress. Understanding your emotions is crucial to being able to deal with them effectively.
3. Set boundaries
Countless employees find themselves feeling stressed and overburdened as a result of too much pressure at work. In an attempt to appease the demands of your superiors and advance your career it can be tempting to bite off more than you can chew – especially in a busy, understaffed environment.
A simple yet effective solution is to set boundaries. What exactly is a boundary, though?
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.Wikipedia
In the context of the workplace, a boundary lets your employers know what they can and can’t expect from you. If you tell them categorically that you can’t work weekends, a firm boundary will ensure that they don’t ask you to. It’s important to set boundaries to ensure that, whatever the demands of the company you work for, they know that you have needs to be met, too.
Spend some time considering what kind of boundaries would suit your working life. Which boundaries could you put in place in order to reduce your stress levels? Which ones, if put in place, would improve your mental wellbeing?
Once you’ve decided, have a conversation with your management team about putting those boundaries into action. Be honest, friendly and open about it. They should understand your concerns and take measures to make things easier for you.
4. Consider how you spend your time outside of work
Work shouldn’t be your life. It’s a part of your life, but there’s more to life than simply working all of the time. That being said, it’s a good idea to consider how you spend your time when you’re not at work.
Your morning routine, for instance, will have a profound effect on your emotional health throughout the rest of your day. If you sleep in late, eat an unhealthy breakfast and leave yourself having to rush to work with no time, you’re likely to feel stressed before you even make it to work.
Instead of maintaining unhealthy habits, think about some ways in which you can incorporate stress-reducing activities into your time at home. Yoga, for instance, is a great way to de-stress after a long day’s work whilst also improving joint health and preventing the spinal damage associated with desk jobs.
5. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to provide a wide range of benefits, ranging from stress reduction to neural recomposition. Incorporating it into your working life can help to bring peace, clarity and more enjoyment into your day-to-day routine.
Although most of us have heard of mindfulness, not everybody knows exactly what it is. Mindfulness, simply put, is the act of being present. Instead of losing yourself in your thoughts or worrying about your deadlines, being mindful is about focusing on one thing and one thing only. That is, right now.
Work-related stress is often chained to fears about the past or the future. We might worry that yesterday we didn’t meet the demands of our manager, and that tomorrow we have a twelve-hour shift to complete.
When those worrisome thoughts arise, just become aware of them. Notice that they’re pulling your focus away from the present moment and then reconnect to the things going on around you right now. Soon, your anxious mind will begin to quieten and your stress levels will lessen in intensity.
6. Connect with other people
As Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, puts it:
If you don’t connect with people, you won’t have support to turn to when you need help.
Having a strong support network of colleagues, friends and family members will enable you to rest assured knowing that you always have other people to lean on when the weight becomes too heavy. Of course, it doesn’t need to get to that point, but being a lone ranger will only make you feel more stressed in the long-run.
Talking things through with a friend will also help you find solutions to your problems.Professor Cary Cooper
The activities that we engage in with friends can help us to relax. Whether it’s going for a meal, catching up over a coffee or doing something active, simply spending quality time with loved ones can help to reduce stress exponentially.
7. Avoid unhealthy habits
Unhealthy habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, eating junk food and not exercising will all impact your stress levels negatively. Even caffeine is a stimulant that can magnify underlying stress – so make that catch-up coffee a decaf. While these things might appear to help in the short-term, they’ll only create more stress for you in the future by harming your physical health.
Instead of relying on such habits as coping mechanisms, seek to replace them with healthy activities like exercise or meditation. Doing so will not only arm you with far more effective methods than those listed above, but also improve your overall health, wellbeing and peace of mind.
8. Work smarter, not harder
At work, we place a lot of pressure on ourselves to work harder in an attempt to be as productive as possible within the time constraints we’re given. Ironically, it’s often the case that the harder we work, the less productive we become.
It’s far more effective to focus not on working harder, but on working smarter. That is, to find ways in which we can get more done without having to ramp up our working hours higher than we can bear.
Take single-tasking, for instance. Single-tasking involves directing all of your energy into one task at a time rather than bouncing between tasks in an attempt to complete them all at once. Multitasking might sound like a good idea, but attempting to juggle too many balls will only increase our chances of dropping them.
Instead, taking care of one task at a time and giving one-hundred percent of our focus to it will ensure that we work to our maximum potentially without stressing ourselves out.
Working smart is about prioritising your work in terms of importance, navigating one task at a time before moving onto the next. By doing so, you’ll be able to work both more efficiently and serenely.
Why employers should try to reduce stress in their workplaces
Reducing stress in the workplace isn’t just essential to the mental health and efficiency of employees, but it’s critical to the functioning of the company as a whole. Taking measures to mitigate tension at work will ensure that members of staff remain happy, motivated and pleased to work for the company they’re a part of.
Placing rigid requirements on employees and expecting them to work long hours at unsociable times is only likely to cause them unnecessary stress. Striking a balance between meeting both your organisation’s demands and the capabilities of your staff is one of many ways that employers can protect the mental wellbeing of their employees.
If your company model enables employees to have more flexibility, like the choice to work from home, for instance, then give them option. Even if it’s only for a couple of days each month, that opportunity could work wonders on their stress levels and overall happiness at work.
No workplace should feel like a prison cell. Understanding your employee’s needs and working to accommodate them whilst moving your company in the right direction will ensure that your staff remain happy, healthy and productive.
As well as that, hosting social events outside of work, expressing sincere appreciation to your employees and investing time and money into reducing stress in the workplace are all ways that employers can boost morale and improve mental health amongst staff members.
There’s no doubt that stress is an unwelcome guest in the workplace. Whether from the perspective of the employee or employer, excess pressure isn’t good for anything and will only detract from the happiness, healthiness and overall efficiency of members of staff.
By making use of the measures outlined above, reducing workplace stress is something that’s within all of our capabilities. Let’s start with learning how to recognise the symptoms of stress, then move on to identifying the root cause of the problem before finally taking action to address it. If this approach is embraced by all employees and supported by their employers, it could go some way to stamping out work-related stress once and for all.
How CRAMS can help
CRAMS is sophisticated H&S management software designed by Genilogic Ltd.
The system is also able to host your company’s mental health policy documentation, so that when new starters are added to the system they can be prompted to complete training and read any documentation assigned to them. This ensures your staff are aware that you take workplace mental health seriously and will empower them with information they need to support their colleagues.