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Managing Stress in the Workplace

Published October 25, 2016 (last updated December 7, 2020) -

Long working hours, insufficient breaks, lack of resources and unrealistic deadlines all contribute to workplace stress. As can relationships with co-workers and managers, especially if these relationships involve conflict, harassment or bullying.

Stress is an important element of life, without stress there would be little constructive activity.

Stress can be beneficial when the:

  • source of stress is identifiable and clear
  • specific challenge is met and the person can return to a normal level of functioning

Stress is harmful when:

  • the source of stress is ambiguous, ill-defined or prolonged
  • there are many sources
  • the person cannot or does not resolve the stressful situation and does not quickly return to normal

We can also experience stress through boredom. This occurs when the workplace does not provide enough challenge or motivation.

But each of us responds to these stressors differently. So a work environment that just makes one person feel a little uptight might push another person to breaking point.

When an individual experiences stress, it not only impacts on their work behaviour but also the broader work environment and their health. Indeed, psychological injury is recognised as the most costly type of workers’ compensation claim.

The impact of stress in the workplace may be manifested in:

  • increased or excessive absenteeism
  • high or increased accident rates or workers’ compensation claims
  • reduced morale
  • poor interpersonal relations in the workplace
  • poor or reduced work output and performance
  • increased staff turnover

Identifying the signs and symptoms of employee stress, and working proactively to address and resolve problems, can reduce the impact that these issues have on the individual and the workplace.

All the following issues have been identified as potential stressors in workplaces:

  • organisation culture
  • bad management practices
  • job content and demands
  • physical work environment
  • relationships at work
  • change in management
  • lack of support
  • role conflict

The good news is, with some thought, some effort and even just a few simple changes, a company can take steps to ensure that employees are not subjected to unnecessary stress, including:

  • ensure a safe working environment
  • make sure that everyone is properly trained for their job
  • de-stigmatise work-related stress by openly recognising it as a genuine problem
  • discuss issues and grievances with employees, and take appropriate action when possible
  • devise a stress management policy in consultation with the employees
  • encourage an environment where employees have more say over their duties, promotional prospects and safety
  • cut down on the need for overtime by reorganising duties or employing extra staff
  • take into account the personal lives of employees and recognise that the demands of home will sometimes clash with the demands of work
  • seek advice from health professionals, if necessary

Helping employees learn to cope with personal stress, to balance their home and work lives, and to build stress resilience can benefit everyone. Consider helping employees by doing the following things:

  • offer training programs that teach stress management techniques, relaxation, time management, positive thinking and assertiveness
  • implement effective grievance and conflict resolution procedures
  • institute flexible work hours, such as time off in-lieu, ability to work part-time and to swap shifts or rostered days off
  • be flexible, within reason, in allowing employees to take time away from work to deal with personal issues
  • consider providing a relaxation space in your workplace
  • be aware of yourself as a role model; try to demonstrate good coping and stress reduction behaviours

All organisations will have some degree of stress among their employees. Stress is a part of life. The keys are in seeking solutions that target the sources of workplace stress, and teaching people to cope with those personal and professional stressors that are inevitable.

As the leading workplace relations specialist, Employsure can assist with managing the health and safety requirements for your business. Call us today on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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