Dealing with workplace stress March 26th, 2014, by Ken Buckley

Stress in the workplace is a growing problem right across Australia and the developed world.

According to the “Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2013“, by the Australian Psychological Society, working Australians reported significantly lower overall workplace wellbeing in 2013 compared to previous years, and almost half of working Australians rated issues in the workplace as a source of stress. Only half said their employer supports staff with mental health issues.

In Australian overall, the survey found significantly higher levels of stress and distress compared with findings in 2012, and significantly more Australians reported moderate to severe levels of distress.

Work-related mental stress claims are the most expensive form of workers’ compensation claim, and they result in the longest periods of days off work.

Yet, while stress claims are increasing, in many workplaces there remains a stigma around admitting you’re too stressed to cope. There is certainly a stigma around “mental health” in general.

A survey by mental health charity, Mind, in the UK found 42% of respondents believe that stress is regarded as a sign of weakness or an indication of an inability to cope in the workplace;  and 45% said staff are expected to cope without mentioning stress at work. Nearly half (42%) believe that time off for stress is seen as an excuse for something else. (While there’s no comparative recent survey for Australian attitudes, we can safely assume overall perceptions are similar over here.)

So what are employers doing about it?

Most employees are now “doing something” about stress, whether it’s by boosting overall health and wellness, or targeting stress and mental health directly.

Buck Consultants did a survey back in 2010 looking at what employees are doing about stress. They identified the top 10 strategies:

Top 10 stress-reducing strategies

  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have been implemented by 78 percent of survey respondents
  • Flexible work schedules (offered by 63 percent)
  • Work/life balance support programs (46%)
  • Leadership training on worker stress (45%)
  • Online healthy lifestyle programs (45%)
  • On site fitness centers (43%)
  • Physical activity programs (38%)
  • Stress awareness campaigns (35%)
  • Financial management classes (30%)
  • Personal health/lifestyle management coaching (29%).

Culture matters

None of these programs or strategies are going to do much good, however, if you don’t have a culture that is supportive of stress and mental health.

Employees need to feel it’s safe to talk about stress. If a talented employee feels they can come out and admit they’re stressed, and receive support to manage it better, they’re more likely to “stay and strive”.

What are the stories people tell about colleagues who were stressed? Is there negative talk about “that guy who couldn’t handle the pressure?” What’s the general goss on people who don’t cope, or can’t stand the heat?

Do senior managers ever talk about stress, and if so, in what terminology?

Consider training for management on how to talk about stress with their teams both formally and informally and how to handle conversations about it.

Firm up these culture changes with policy: make your policy on stress or mental health clear to both team members and team leaders, so they know what to do and what to expect. If you don’t have one, make one.

 

Healthworks provides a range services to help you manage workplace stress, including three booklets — Mentally Healthy, Stress Less and Work Life Balance, our Stress Less seminar, Positively Well seminar, our Balance Up campaign and the WellSteps Stress Free campaign.

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