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Three Strategies for Managing Employee Stress

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By Sarah Carter, Account Management Manager, OneBright

Stress is part of every job. This is how our body naturally reacts to pressure. Some level of stress is unavoidable and can act as a good motivator, however, too much stress is debilitating, especially when it never seems to stop. Employees who are constantly stressed will be more prone to burnout, insomnia, and irritability. They will be more likely to create conflicts with their colleagues or withdraw from professional life. Here are three strategies for managers and HR professionals to manage this stress.

Training for HR and line management on mental health, well-being and resilience.

For too long, talking about mental health in the workplace has been taboo. Workers fear the potential negative consequences of disclosing this information to employers, while supervisors and business leaders may feel uncomfortable starting a conversation about mental health.

Under these conditions, employees whose mental health is strained due to prolonged stress may not feel comfortable talking to their employers about it. The feeling of shame for not “handling” the pressures well could add to the stress. Mental health awareness training for all employees can help dispel these fears, especially if employees know they can access more mental health help if they need it. Providing specific training for supervisors and those responsible for the welfare of others can also be invaluable.

Mental health training for line managers should include the following:

Tracking the signs – How to spot behavioral changes and symptoms in an employee suffering from stress or mental health issues.
Communication skills – How to talk about it and which words are best to use/avoid.
Workplace adjustments and return to work – training for managers to help people stay at work where possible or reintegrate individuals into the team for an effective and successful return to work.

Employers may ignore stress levels in their workplace. This can be the case in both large and small businesses, especially since employees can now rarely be in the physical “workplace”. Doing a survey or audit to understand your employees’ stress levels can help you overcome this blindness. Asking an outside specialist organization to complete the survey can help employees feel comfortable sharing information that they might not share with their boss.

But you don’t necessarily need to do a survey — a simple audit of HR logs can show you whether employees in certain areas seem to need sick days more than others. And a simple conversation can show if your company has a “long hours” culture. This data can help you target training for managers who might be putting too much pressure on their team without realizing it.

Build and maintain a culture of good boundaries around the workday

Ideally, job stress should not follow a worker home. But smartphones and endless emails can make employees feel like they always need to be “on” — from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep. While there are often times when work is needed outside of regular business hours, letting this become the norm can easily lead to employee burnout. People need time to rest and recharge if they want to perform well.

Try to clarify when emails and chat messages sent on weekends or after hours can be left for the next business day. Better yet, do your best not to send such messages outside of the working day. A scheduling tool for your email can help, if all your best ideas come in at 10 p.m. Let managers and employees know that if there is consistently too much work to do during regular hours, something may need to change.

Provide training

Hands-on training sessions for groups of employees will help employees maximize their performance or build resilience and manage their reactions to stress. Sometimes stress isn’t caused by too much work, but by an employee struggling to cope with what others might consider a normal workload.

Some positions will naturally lead to stressful situations, like tight deadlines or big pitches. Training sessions for employees or groups of employees could help. Experienced employees can share the strategies they use to deal with the normal stresses of work life, from email filters to task triage. This can build the resilience of teams. So when a stressful situation arises, employees are equipped to deal with it or seek help if they cannot.