Everyone has experienced some form of stress or anxiety in the workplace. In fact, the latest research suggests that Australia is facing a work-related stress epidemic, with almost a third suffering from depression, anxiety, and stress.
According to a report from BeyondBlue, work stress is a leading cause of absenteeism and compensation claims. Between 2009 and 2015, the median worker’s compensation payment for mental health-related claims was $24,500, compared to $9,200 across all other serious workplace claims.
And these worker’s compensation stress claims are only on the rise.
As people work longer and harder, less time is spent recovering from work. Which results in less time to sleep, less time to eat properly and less time to recuperate. The effects? A high incidence of stress and other mental illnesses in the workplace.
What Causes Stress?
Long work hours, lack of adequate work/life balance and excessively high workloads are to blame for workplace stress.
Other factors that contribute to anxiety, depression or stress at work include:
- Being Undervalued: Overmanaging can lead to staff feeling undervalued.
- Lack of Support: Managers and supervisors are urged to create a supportive work environment, so employees don’t feel isolated.
- Workplace Aggression: Aggression in the form of physical/verbal threats and abuse or sexual harassment can lead to fear and helplessness. Passive aggressive actions, such as withholding information or resources, not responding to emails or phone calls, or being excluded and victimized is also a leading cause of workplace stress.
Acceptable vs. Unacceptable Levels of Stress
Business owners and managers have legal obligations to provide a safe and healthy workplace. It also makes good business sense, driving better productivity for all.
While it’s an OHS legislation required to ensure every workplace manages stress and supports mental illnesses, staff also have a level of responsibility to maintain and record their own wellbeing.
Common signs of stress business owners, managers and employees can look out for include:
- Frequent tension headaches
- Chest, back and stomach pain/nausea
- Diet changes – over or undereating
- Trouble sleeping
- Frequent colds and/or infections
- High blood pressure
- Confusion or inability to focus
- Depression, sadness, low self-esteem and feeling overwhelmed
- Diminished creativity and initiative, including drops in work performances
- Isolation and lower tolerance of frustration and impatience
- An increase in sick days or absenteeism
- Cognitive difficulties including reduced ability concentrate or make decisions
- Hair loss, acne, rashes and eyelid twitching
However, stress can also have a positive impact on the workplace. Not all of it is bad or should be discouraged, as some forms can drive motivation and increase productivity and creativity. Positive stress is caused by stressful situations being met with positive attitudes, good news or unexpected advantages.
Negative stress, on the other hand, leads to bodies and minds shutting down, increasing workplace psychological hazards. Generally, it’s caused by unachievable deadlines, unrealistic workloads, workplace bullying and an overload of pressure.
Here are some actionable tips to manage stress in your workplace:
Resilience is important for managing stress.
Tough times are inevitable. It’s how you get back up after you’ve been knocked down that’s challenging to nail.
A better resilience can be achieved through strong support networks, self-compassion and learning from your setbacks. Mental agility, the ability to switch gears in your mind from reacting to stress to responding to stress, is helpful for building a better resilience.
Establish a Healthy Work/Life Balance
Balance in all aspects of life is crucial.
Flexible work environments can help to reduce some of the other pressures in your life. For small businesses that may be unable to stay competitive with pay, a healthy work/life balance is a rewarding incentive for all in managing stress and employee retention.
Good work/life balances will also assist in building resilience to stress. Find hobbies or a side project outside of work that makes you happy and fulfills you. Nurture relationships outside of the office and try new things to prevent being tied to only one thing – work.
Every little choice you make throughout your day can make you more resistant to stress. Balanced lifestyles, including healthy diets and adequate rest, offer the best tools to be able to cope better with stressful situations.
Avoid Excessive Workloads
Excessively high workloads cause people to feel under pressure and overwhelmed. When you feel overwhelmed, it’s common to become angry, withdrawn and irritable.
Giving work to an already overloaded employee can lead to stress-related disasters. Instead, manage excessive workloads by keeping staff levels adequate and reducing overtime. This prevents reacting to increases in demand and focuses on managing it instead.
Open communication lines between business owners and employees provide an outlet to share the stress and provide mentoring. If the workplace encourages a healthy and honest environment, excessive workloads can be minimized.
Take Deep Breath Breaks
Short breaks throughout the day, deep breathing, and exercise all contribute to happier, healthier minds.
Make time for regular exercise to increase energy, sharpen focus and lift your mood. Regular movements are also soothing for the nervous system, relaxing both the body and mind.
Breathing exercises can be done anytime, anywhere. If you feel overwhelmed at work, go for a quick walk or find a quiet spot to breathe. This can help tame the fight-or-flight response and regain control.
According to UK researcher Jo Coulson, who helped conduct a study on exercise’s effect on workers, exercise days significantly improve people’s moods. The moods of those that didn’t exercise in the University of Bristol study remained the same, except for their sense of calm which deteriorated.
Take time out, 5-15 minutes is all you need if things become too stressful at work. Have a stretch, get moving and be mindful of your breathing.
Set Clear Expectations
One of the biggest factors contributing to job burnout is unclear expectations. If you don’t know what’s required of you or things keep changing with little notice, stress levels are likely to increase.
Perfection rarely satisfies. Instead, set reasonable standards for yourself and others. It’s important to be transparent about the goals of the business and how job roles support them. This will give staff a clear understanding of what’s expected from them.
According to Heads Up, staff responsibilities and goals should be equally distributed across the team and set out in as much detail as possible. They also suggest providing a framework for employees to master their free time. This encourages more sustainable results and higher performing companies.
Mindfulness, a form of meditation, reduces anxiety and focuses on stress management.
Studies show the act of mindfulness not only calms stress but increases your ability to think critically and concentrate. With regular practice, 10 minutes a day, mindfulness, can help you better deal with stressful situations.
Keep a Record
If you are suffering from workplace stress and anxiety then keep a record with your doctor. Even if you don’t need to make a workers’ compensation claim, regular check-ups are important in maintaining your health. It’s also a good idea to establish a baseline with your doctor, that will be used to measure progress or regression.
If you have made a claim for workplace stress, always seek professional advice from a specialist workers’ compensation lawyer to help guide you through the process.
With the right tools, managers and staff can reduce stress levels and improve business foundations. Which stress management strategies do you find beneficial? Leave your comments below.