words | Sylvia Kenna, The HR Dept.
A trainer confidently walked around the room while explaining stress management to an audience with a raised glass of water. Everyone knew she was going to ask the usual question, ‘half empty or half full?’… She fooled them all… “How heavy is this glass of water?” she inquired with a smile. Answers called out ranged from 200g to 500g. She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it.
If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance.
In each case it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “and that’s the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.”
“As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden – holding stress longer and better each time practiced. So, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night, pick them up tomorrow.
Work-related stress is the adverse reaction to excessive pressures and other demands at work. Stress can become an illness if it is excessive and prolonged and a mental or physical illness can develop. Bear in mind that some work-related pressure is normal. Pressure can keep people motivated but too much pressure can result with stress. The tipping point will differ from person to person.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of long term sickness absence which is very expensive for employers. The impact of stress on the business can be seen in the following ways:
- Employee commitment to work
- Staff performance and productivity
- Staff turnover and intention to leave
- Attendance levels
- Staff recruitment and retention
- Customer satisfaction
- Organisational image and reputation
- Potential litigation
- Team morale and pressure
Good people managers are alert to the signs of stress and know how their team react. Some indicators may be someone being unusually tearful or aggressive, taking more than usual sickness absence or working long hours and not taking breaks. Even if the job is not the direct cause of stress, it is likely to affect performance at work.
You can mitigate the risk of stress in your team by doing some or all of the following:
- Have regular team meetings
- Know your team
- Be open and honest
- Speak to individuals regularly
- Discourage working long hours
- Be courteous and respectful
- Praise and thank regularly
Persuade your company that doing some or all of the following can reduce the risk of stress:
- Well managed induction
- Open communications
- In-house training & social learning
- Set and measure goals
- Provide wellbeing focused benefits
- Monitor absence
- Keep in touch during long term absence
- Make reasonable adjustments
If you notice the signs and suspect one of your team is suffering from stress, take swift action and meet with them in private taking HR along with you. Keep the meeting informal, be sympathetic and attempt to discover why the person is suffering from stress. You may consider if you need to investigate further the reason. Remember bullying and harassment may require a full investigation and result in disciplinary action.
Once you are aware of the circumstances, you will be able to offer support which may be in the form of flexible working hours, advice from an occupational health provider or from HR. Whatever support is offered, ensure you discuss this with the person and put together an agreed action plan. Remember to follow up and take further action if required.
Sometimes the pressure is not going to go away and we have to learn to deal with it. Help people to come up with coping strategies so that when the pressure builds, stress is not the only outcome.
The UK charity Mind suggests that when dealing with pressure, you identify what triggers your stress and reflect on why this is. Organise your time by identifying your best time of the day and dealing with difficult things at that time. Make a list and organise priorities and don’t try to do too much – remember to take regular breaks. Consider practical ways of dealing with problems and ask help from others, do some research.
Most importantly, accept the things you cannot change. This is easier said than done, however, once mastered, it will help you focus your time and energy better.