Hints & Tips Blog

Dealing with the ‘S word’ A practical guide to reducing workplace stress – part 1

We all know that employers looking after their teams’ mental health has never been more important. And arguably we’ve never faced such a perfect storm of world events that could potentially have a negative impact on our levels of anxiety, uncertainty and wellbeing.

The shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the devastating and heart-breaking events in Ukraine, the spiralling cost of living and a potential recession looming, all combine into a continued and persistent stream of negativity and worry into our psyche. Within our businesses too there are pressures and challenges to face; supply chain disruption, some continuing post-Brexit challenges, ‘The Great Resignation’, ever evolving employee expectations and for some a dip in resilience and engagement coming out of the pandemic.

While we can’t control world events, nor can we mitigate all their effects on our employees, there are things we can do to support their mental health, and one key way to do this is to work to reduce the level of stress people experience at work. There are of course many origins of stress that may not be work related, but reducing stress and anxiety in the workplace can be a key factor in supporting our teams, not only to be able to cope better with their other sources of stress, but also help them to be more effective, motivated and productive at work.

As we head towards the end of Stress Awareness Month, we’re conscious that efforts to reduce workplace stress should be regular and ongoing, not limited to 1 month of the year. So we’ve put together a range of practical ideas for individuals, Managers and Leaders to think about, to help them manage their own, and their teams’ stress levels. In part 1 we’ll look at what you can do to manage your own stress, in part 2 we’ll offer tips for Managers and Leaders, but whoever you are, remember…

One size does not fit all

Before we look at specific tips for individuals, Managers and Leaders, we must acknowledge there is no sliver bullet, no simple or single solution – why? Because we’re all different.

What is stressful for one person, might be invigorating for another, and this comes down to our personality, our life experience and how we are wired. The key is to understand ourselves and those in our teams, take the time to understand key drivers, stimuli and stressors, and acknowledge these will be different for each of us.

For some people enforced working from home in the lockdown suited them well. They found they were more productive if they had a quiet working environment with none of the usual distractions and interruptions of office working, and more opportunity to take initiative and find new ways of delivering. These people might be keen to continue working from home and feeling pressured to come back to the office environment may be a stress trigger for them. Alternatively, for others, who need more face to face interaction, social stimulation and more readily available support to hand, home working was stressful.

And personality also influences how people respond to the way they are managed. Some want clear instructions and objectives, a well-defined list of tasks and deadlines, and clarity about when they will report in and how they can access any support they need. Not getting these things can mean they start to feel stressed or anxious. While for others, too much structure, a lack of opportunity to take the initiative, or not being given space to be able to work towards a goal in the way that they prefer, will be the source of stress.

So before anything else, take the time to assess, and ask, what do your team members need from you?

Managing your own stress

Know yourself

While others can help us deal with our stress levels, change our workload or offer support, ultimately the person who can really make the difference about how we feel about things, and how we deal with things, is ourself. So take time to assess the things that you find difficult or stressful, and then put in place strategies yourself, perhaps with help from others, to mitigate these.

For example, if you find having to juggle competing priorities stressful, try listing all your tasks, their level of importance, the time they are likely to take and the deadlines attached. Then schedule the order in which you need to complete them. If you find there is genuinely too much to do in the time available, it means you can ask for help ahead of time, or check in about what’s really most important, rather than waiting until a deadline has passed and it’s created a problem, for you and others. Equally, worrying about ‘letting people down’ can be a key stress trigger that can lead people to push themselves too hard and be susceptible to ‘burn-out’. Thinking ahead and identifying genuine pressure points that enable solutions to be created before it’s too late, can help you feel that you are contributing to preventing a problem by flagging it, rather than ‘letting people down’.

Monitor what’s influencing you

Many people are becoming aware that a constant barrage of news, social media and emails is contributing to their stress. At the best of times being constantly bombarded with information can lead to overload, and feelings of being overwhelmed. When much of that information is negative and anxiety inducing, the impact is even greater.

So choose the channels you get your information from wisely, and perhaps try limiting your exposure. For some people reducing the frequency of accessing worrying news headlines, or negative or combative social media feeds can help. And making sure they balance these by exploring other, more positive channels, as well as having periods when they ‘disconnect’ entirely, can provide a much needed respite. Again, different things will work for different people, some will find relief in social interaction, others in losing themselves in a hobby or interest.

Ditch multi-tasking

We need to remember why we feel the need to multi-task, and for many it stems from a feeling there is just too much to do and not enough time. That starting point, combined with the reality of splitting our focus in too many directions, can lead to us feeling frazzled, not effective. The imagined benefits of multi-tasking – delivering twice as much progress in half the time, is often never achieved. Generally we are less productive, and end up doing everything half as well, leading to further frustration.

Instead, try ‘chunking’ – split your day down into specific tasks you want to really focus on. Many studies have shown that for most people it can take about 10-15 minutes to really hit your stride when dealing with a task, especially one that’s not straightforward. But you can’t hit your stride if you’re constantly checking emails, looking at your company’s WhatsApp group or Teams channels, answering a call, preparing for your next meeting and generally switching frequently between tasks. You’re doing lots of things, but probably not very well. But if you take the time to fully engage in a task, you hit your ‘flow state’, you become far more productive and get better results, which leads to a greater sense of achievement, and consequently you feel less stressed.

Reappraise negative thoughts

If we feel stressed it can affect how we respond to things, how we feel about things. Some things we may ordinarily enjoy, suddenly feel like an additional pressure, and we can start to look at things through a negative lens and question ourselves and our abilities. We’re more likely to jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence, assuming we’re not doing a good job so we won’t be valued, or that our boss thinks we’re not delivering.

It can help to notice when we have these negative thoughts, and try to assess where they are really coming from? Has your boss actually said or done anything that suggests they are unhappy with your work? Or are you projecting your own fears or frustrations onto how you think they feel? Try to analyse what’s really happening. It may be they are not giving you enough positive appreciation or feedback, but this is not necessarily always about you. They may have time pressure or stresses of their own. But by sharing how you feel with them, asking the questions, it allows you to either make them aware you need more encouragement from them, or they can share what else they need from you. Either way, you have removed the doubt and can move forward more positively.

In our next Business Insights, we’ll cover tips to help Managers and Leaders work effectively to reduce stress in their teams.

Our team at BHP Consulting have all successfully run businesses. So we understand that while every business is unique, workplace stress is not, and can have a huge impact on Leaders, Managers and employees alike.

Our practical approach to supporting our clients enables us to share our real-world experience to help you create solutions, not just for workplace stress, but in many other areas that will positively impact on the performance of your business. To arrange a call or an exploratory face-to-face meeting, please click here.