HR Forum: Stress and resilience in the workplace
SA Law’s March HR Forum was dedicated to the challenges caused by workplace stress. Employment law experts Chris Cook and Keely Rushmore were joined by Adam Shaw, who was a senior NHS nurse for 13 years and has a special interest in this subject.
What is stress?
Stress is a primal experience in which blood flow is redirected, breathing becomes shallow, and emotion and logic can go out of the window. Adam Shaw calls this the ‘lunatic gene’, and we all have a capacity for it. Symptoms include mood swings, irritability, sleeplessness, weight gain and tiredness.
Why is stress in the workplace a challenge for employers?
Workplace stress is a major factor contributing to illness. If it isn’t managed effectively, an organisation can suffer lost productivity, costly mistakes, and even reputational damage with customers. Furthermore, a change in workplace culture since the 1970s means that employers have a duty of care for employee safety, and stress is now very much part of their obligations. Click here to read our article on the cost of unmanaged stress at work.
What causes stress in the workplace?
Workplace stress can have many causes, such as too much work or responsibility, or if an employee has problems with colleagues. However, quite often not all contributors are work-related. A negative situation in someone’s personal life may also affect their work, such as going through a divorce, or moving home. Click here to read my article on what to do when an employee is going through a divorce.
6 ways to manage stress?
Key ways that employees can manage stress and increase their resilience include:
- Hydrate regularly, because even 1-2% dehydration has a negative impact on your cognitive function
- Disconnect from the source of the stress-trigger by leaving before you react
- Breathing affects mood, so breathe deeper as this will oxygenate your body more effectively than shallow breaths
- Do something to exercise such as going for a walk, which helps to counter the stress chemicals that are building up
- Look after yourself better generally, with regular exercise, healthy meals and a sensible approach to alcohol
- Focus on what makes you happy for a few moments a day
What can employers do to manage stress in the workplace?
Employers play a key role in helping their employees to manage stress. There are obvious solutions such as monitoring workloads, and ensuring employees leave at reasonable times. Most importantly, make sure managers can spot the early signs of stress and implement effective prevention strategies.
Even simple things like complimenting staff members on their work can help, as people who feel valued are less likely to be sick or absent from work.
If an employee is feeling stressed, then take action as soon as possible, including making reasonable adjustments within the workplace to alleviate it. This can put you in a good position if the situation results in a claim being made against you.