stress management in the workplace
By Melani De Sousa and Dara Nixayathirath
Prior to COVID-19, one in five Australians suffered from a diagnosed mental health condition . The Productivity Commission (2020) estimated the total costs of poor mental health on Australia's economy, government and society at $200-220 billion per year .
Endless lockdowns, isolation and insecurity have exacerbated feelings of stress and poor mental health in the workplace for millions of Australians during the global pandemic. However, by taking steps to modify workplace practices to reduce work-related stressors, a significant portion of mental ill health could be prevented.
What is workplace stress?
The World Health Organisation defines workplace stress as ‘the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope’ .
what causes workplace stress?
Various factors can contribute to work-related stress including:
Poor work organisation, the structure of work systems and how they are managed
Poor management and leadership
Lack of support from colleagues and supervisors
High demand tasks
Discrimination - gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity
Feeling out of place
The importance of workplace mental health and work-life balance
Stress can be directly associated with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, and physical disorders such as hypertension and diabetes . One study highlighted that ‘work stress appears to precipitate diagnosable depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers’. Employers need to recognise and create meaningful practices to create a steady balance for staff, implementing the same duty of care and enforcement as is expected for mitigating physical health risks in the workplace.
Undoubtedly, meeting deadlines, striving to get a competitive edge or the desire to exceed expectations can sometimes make achieving this balance difficult. Nonetheless, it is workplace leaders who can pave the way to implement initiatives for staff.
Work stress appears to precipitate diagnosable depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers
Five strategies to support employees in managing workplace stress
Workplaces can employ various techniques to alleviate and minimise harmful workplace stress for employees, as generally no single intervention works in isolation.
1. Conduct regular reviews and feedback surveys
Whether it be monthly, bi-annually or annually, conducting regular reviews and obtaining data regarding employee experience and thoughts is imperative for the success of the business. It aids managers to spot areas of stress and enable greater mental health awareness.
2. know your policies
Leaders, managers and HR staff with a thorough understanding of workplace policies are better equipped to provide appropriate support if employees become stressed or are struggling within the workplace. Have information and resources readily on hand and provide mental health training where possible to senior levels of staff to ensure the signs and symptoms of stress are identified quickly within the team. Engaging a trusted EAP service where employees can confidentially speak to an Allied Health Professional or Coach can also be an effective tool in overcoming issues that effect workplace performance.
3. Separation between out of work hours
Setting boundaries where applicable and encouraging employees to stick to them reduces burnout and fatigue. Communicate expectations regarding monitoring of emails outside of work hours, and lead by example where possible. Working from home can blur the lines between work and home time so creating a distinct separation between out of work hours ensures staff can focus on hobbies and family life outside of work.
4. Provide relaxation areas
Areas away from the desk where people can recharge increase on-the-job performance and productivity. Popular ideas in the office include game rooms, meditation/yoga and nap rooms . For those working from home, encourage employees to create an office space for working that’s separate from their bedroom, kitchen or family room. If possible, provide office equipment on loan or offer incentives to purchase new equipment that is ergonomically designed to reduce repetitive stress injuries and aid good posture while sitting for long hours. Physically separating the areas within the home where you work and play not only provides a physical distinction between spaces but promotes the mental separation of activities too.
5. Book a stress management workshop
Wellbeing workshops can inform, educate and inspire employees to take action and improve stress management techniques through coping mechanisms and self-care both in the workplace and at home. A good stress management workshop will not only identify areas of improvement, but also provide evidence-based strategies to reduce the impact of stress on the mind and body, while increasing productivity and contentment.
Prioritising mental health and wellbeing in the workplace ensures staff are happier, healthier and less likely to be absent from work or look for work elsewhere. With employee absenteeism and presenteeism costing our local economy billions of dollars every year, an effective stress management plan could be the difference between a thriving workplace and a non-existent one.
References & Resources
Australian Council of Trade Unions (2021). Working From Home (Melbourne: ACTU),https://www.actu.org.au/media/1449319/au_workingfromhome_p1.pdf.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019). Expenditure on Mental Health Services (Canberra: AIHW); https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/3e21fa68-2455-490ea5d3-26b538c87732/Expenditure-on-mental-health-related-services-2018- 19.pdf.aspx.
World Health Organization. Mental health policies and programmes in the workplace. Geneva: WHO; 2005. https://www.who.int/mental_health/policy/workplace_p olicy_programmes.pdf
Melchior M, Caspi A, Milne BJ, Danese A, Poulton R, Moffitt TE. Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young, working women and men. Psychol Med. 2007; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2062493/.
Increase productivity: Provide Relaxation areas in the office. Bestar. https://www.bestar.ca/increase-productivity-provide-relaxation-areas-in-office/.