We all know that stress levels in the workplace are reaching unreasonable levels. And most sensible human beings will agree that we have to take action to fix this problem.
However, some government agencies and, I must say, some consultants are all for creating yet another paper and theoretical exercise that will have little benefit to the employees or the business. Managers don’t need lectures on how too much stress diminishes people’s creativity and productivity, increases absenteeism, extended sick leave and can result in tribunal payouts of tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds. Managers want assistance not lectures.
Do whatever you can to escape the form filling that supposed ensure you meet certain “stress management standards”. Avoid like the plague what are now being called “stress risk assessments”. These will require the resources of a full time employee and lead to even more stress!
Rather concentrate on straightforward and easily applied measures to reduce stress and at the same time show employees and regulatory authorities and legal courts that your organization does stake stress seriously.
Here are just ten you could start with.
1. Ensure your Employee Handbook and Induction has plenty of wording in it that shows that management knows about the adverse effects of too much stress. Explain what people must do if they feel under stress. Go over the top to show that management wants and welcomes discussion reporting of excess stress. Who ever is giving the induction must state this orally too.
2. Have a clear, written and concise procedure that people can follow if they find stress getting out of hand. What can people do if they feel under stress? Who should they speak to? What do they do if it’s their boss who is the cause of stress? What help can the business offer? Make sure employees know they also have a responsibility to look after their physical and mental health.
3. Give people clear job descriptions so they know what is required of them and revisit the description every six months to update them. You can do this in the annual or (better) twice-yearly appraisal Involve people in writing and re-negotiating job descriptions. Specifically ask about what can be done to reduce stress and record the answer.
4. Keep referring to stress in newsletters, speeches and meetings. Put stress reduction on the agenda of management meetings and have a set section in the newsletter. Senior managers should include a mention of stress in at least one speech per year.
5. Offer people-management/leadership workshops to managers and supervisors. Many of them don’t know how to get the best from their people. Unnecessary tension is caused by ignorance of how to speak to and treat people effectively in the modern workplace. Often supervisors don’t know they’re a source of stress – nobody tells them. Keep it simple: one day is enough and avoid “models and theories of leadership”!
6. Offer stress management workshops and literature. Even if there are no current stress problems offer the workshops anyway. Even insist people go. Keep it simple – a half-day is enough and avoid all theory! Give people a book or CD on stress management as part of the induction.
7. Offer a time management workshop. It’s amazing how people can take better control when they know it’s okay to say “no”, to scrap a meeting, to scrap a report, to cut short appointments and to find better, quicker less burdensome ways of doing things. Most people get bogged down because they don’t think in terms of time management and even when they do, some are too afraid to approach the boss. They will think you’ll think, they’re lazy or uncooperative.
8. Monitor stress levels.
No, you don’t need an 80-question stress climate survey or bureaucratic stress management standards. Just twice a year issue a half-page with one question: “For you personally give three things the organisation could do to reduce unreasonable stress”. Make this an anonymous exercise and publish the results with actions taken.
9. Take time to listen and act. If a stress issue is raised, be seen to be taking it seriously. Make time to listen, document the issues and then take action. Whilst keeping confidences publicise what action has been taken.
10. Unfortunately, sooner or later you’ll have to prove to some authority that you are doing things to combat unreasonable stress. Therefore keep a running and up-to-date record – just a simple book – of all the things your organisation is doing to reduce stress in the workplace. Record everything. For example, if you run a Recruitment Interviewing Course, record how you amended the content to include an hour or so on testing to see if candidates can cope with the stress of a particular job.
Debate about what stress is, the relative responsibilities of employers and employees and what systems to use will go on and on. You might as well just get on and do what commonsense and good leadership dictates.