Six ways to combat stress at work

Stress is rapidly becoming the leading type of workplace injury. So, how do you combat stress in your workforce?

First published on Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Last updated on Monday, Apr 01, 2024

7 min read

According to Safe Work Australia’s report on psychological health in Australian workplaces, mental health conditions made up 9% of serious workers’ compensation claims in 2021-22. A whopping 36.9% increase since 2017-18.

Not only was the median time lost 4 times more than the median time lost to physical injuries and illnesses in the same period, but the compensation paid for mental health conditions was more than 3 times greater as well. It doesn’t end there. Workers with mental health conditions claims also experienced poorer return-to-work outcomes and had a higher likelihood of facing stigma upon their return.

These numbers are particularly concerning for small business owners. Limited resources often mean that employee time off has a huge impact on your business. The financial ramifications of high stress at work, and the support you’re able to offer your employees can also often feel out of your reach.

The good news is that a proactive approach to preventing employees’ mental health problems may be easier to implement than you think.

Here are six ways you can combat stress at work.

1. Recognising the signs and understanding the causes

The first step to combatting stress in the workplace is being able to recognise the signs. And often they can be subtle. Anything from changes in appetite, sleep problems and headaches, right through to irritability and mood swings.

If left, these can grow and ultimately prolonged periods of stress can lead to workers taking time off, a weakened immune system with greater susceptibility to minor ailments, and sadly could lead to longer-term physical and mental issues. If you do spot any of these signs it may be worth having a quiet, confidential chat with your employee to ensure everything is ok and to reassure them if they are feeling the effects of stress that you will be there to support them.

As well as spotting the signs it’s important that you understand the potential causes, so you can help minimise stressful elements within the workplace where possible. There are a number of reasons why your workers get stressed in the workplace, with workload and management style being two work-related reasons.

However, it’s not all to do with work and there are causes that will be outside of your control. Non-work factors, for example, play a huge part; after all your employees don’t switch off their life problems just because they’re at work.

2. Encourage positive workplace relationships

One of the most important ways of combatting stress is by developing and nurturing workplace relationships. As already mentioned, the early signs can be quite subtle, and many people will keep any feelings of stress under wraps for fear of negative reactions.

However, if you have a good workplace relationship with your employees you may be able to spot these subtle changes and take steps to ensure the worker is supported as much as possible.

What’s more, by developing these relationships you create an honest and open work culture, with open lines of communication. This kind of culture will not only allow employees to be more comfortable in coming forward to you with any stress-related concerns, but it also lets employees know that you are there to help them and that they are valued as members of staff and aren’t just numbers.

3. Make sure your employees are taking a break

We all know that the world of work is a busy place. But feeling like you can’t have a minute to yourself will lead to burnout sooner rather than later.

Taking a break is essential in order to relax the mind and recharge your batteries. It will help you strike a healthy work-life balance and show up as the best version of yourself in all aspects of your life.

Breaks can come in two forms; breaks from work throughout the day, and breaks taking extended time away from work.

In terms of the workplace, it’s important to ensure your workers are taking frequent breaks. Spending too much time in front of a screen or on work tasks can lead to stress. To encourage your staff to step away now and again, it’s important that you support a culture where this is the norm.

If possible, you may want to provide breakout spaces where workers can take 5 or 10 minutes away from their desks, and you can also encourage your teams to take their lunch away from the desk.

In an on-demand, 24/7, always-on society it’s easy for the work-life balance to shift firmly in favour of work. Economic and social pressures may also mean that many employees may feel they need to be working constantly, without a holiday, just so their jobs are not under threat.

This, along with other factors, has meant that people are taking less time away from the office, sending burnout and stress levels through the roof.

4. Keep track of workloads

One of the biggest causes of workplace stress is a person’s workload; that feeling that you have too much work on your plate.

Much of the problem lies in workload visibility. We tend to get so wrapped up in our own jobs that we don’t truly reckon with the workload others may be shouldering.

Even if you do have visibility through one-to-one meetings or informal conversations, you may not get the whole picture as people may have tasks that require more time and focus than others or ad-hoc tasks they weren’t aware of. It all comes back to the workplace relationship; allowing workers to open up about the true extent of their workload and to come to management with any concerns.

5. Carry out return-to-work interviews

This may sound invasive to employees transitioning back into work after time away. But a return-to-work interview doesn't have to be this way and can provide useful information for managers. If an employee has been off, a return-to-work interview will allow you to uncover the reasons behind the absence. If their absence is stress-related, you can then start to look at ways you may be able to combat the issue.

It will not only help individual employees, but it may also allow you to uncover stress-related issues that could be affecting your entire workforce, so you can put plans in place before they become a more widespread issue.

6. Be a role model

No matter what plans or preventative measures you put in place, it’s important that you act as a role model and lead from the front.

If you want to foster an open culture where employee relationships flourish, then you need to make sure you’re engaging with your employees. If you feel taking breaks will help stress levels in your company, then make sure you are taking breaks as well. That way you send a message that not only is it ok to take the rest you need, but that it’s encouraged.

As you can see, stress can become a problem on both a business and personal level. It’s important for business owners to realise the potential negative effects, and take measures to reduce and prevent as much workforce stress as possible before the problem escalates.

Foster a healthy work culture with tools like accessible e-learning courses, employee recognition, and a staff perks platform.

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