what can you do about stress and employee wellbeing

Posted in Employee Benefits and Wellbeing, Employee Retention, Workplace Engagement, Behavioural Change, Health and Wellbeing, Cycle to Work, Holiday Buy Back Scheme, Talent Retention

by James Malia on Dec 13, 2017 12:08:47 PM

Want to cut stress in the workplace? Here's how.

 

When your employees are stressed, everyone loses out. We look at how workplace stress affects employee wellbeing. Find out how you can help employees feel better supported and engaged at work. 

If employee wellbeing is the proverbial unicorn in your office, it’s time to act. Many companies know the concept of how wellbeing at work affects employee engagement. But they don’t always take steps to do anything about it. 

Once upon a time, organisations could put other business priorities ahead of employee wellbeing. But no more.

Whether it’s a lack of investment in additional resource, training opportunities or the tools to do the job effectively or even just a lack of awareness, it’s barriers like these that can stop employees working to the best of their ability.

And that leads to stress.

Stress is a killer on all counts and it can seriously harm your bottom line. It’s no longer a taboo subject in the workplace either; employee mental health is well and truly out of the box. Even the royal family is putting it at the top of their agendas, so it’s high time businesses did too. As Prince William said just this year, “there’s no more stiff upper lip about mental health.”

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you work, stress needs stamping out.

STRESS KILLS PRODUCTIVITY 

When employees are happy and healthy, they’re engaged. And it’s this engagement that leads to greater levels of productivity, and therefore, profitability. Stress is the enemy of workplace engagement. It leads to employee burnout and that zaps performance, energy and optimism on all counts.

It’s no wonder that forward-thinking companies are falling over themselves to firmly focus on employee wellbeing. After all, why wouldn’t you want to help your business be more effective in these times of low productivity?

Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate: An Essential Guide to Employee Engagement’ study tells us that teams with high employee engagement rates are 22% more productive (Gallup). This higher workplace engagement leads to 37% lower absenteeism. And there are plenty more stats from where those came from.

When you’ve got media reports talking about a lost decade for UK businesses, you know things are serious. Like the bad fairy, seriously low productivity levels are being blamed for just about everything. It’s a topic we’re only going to hear more about from now on.

If now isn’t a time to address employee wellbeing in your business, we don’t know when is.

The good news is, that if you’re working inside an HR department, you can drive behaviour change and see to it that your organisation is firing on all cylinders. Here’s how…

UNDERSTAND STRESS IN THE WORKPLACE 

First up, do you recognise workplace stress? According to the Health & Safety Executive, stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases, and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2015/16. A good employer will start by tackling the causes and effects of stress in the workplace. But first, you need to understand it.

Stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can motivate us as our adrenaline kicks in, powering an energy boost and even helping us to perform to a high level in the workplace. But constantly stressful situations can wear the mind and body down, increasing blood pressure and leading to an inability to think straight.

It’s this kind of stress that can affect employee health and wellbeing.

Most of us know that when an employee is stressed, they will enter fight or flight mode. When the body goes into a state of stress, we may feel agitated or aggressive towards each other. It’s our body’s natural reaction to ‘fight’ and try to ward off ‘predators’.

But in today’s modern world, this response can negatively affect relationships in the workplace. Let’s face it, we’re not Neanderthals anymore, are we?

Some of us go into ‘flight’ mode which is designed to take us away from the stressors that are impacting our world. But as anyone who’s ever had some sort of family falling out knows, this can lead to the stressful situation escalating and actually have the reverse effect on our stress levels.

If you’ve identified stress in the workplace, what can you do to manage it?

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE 

Prevention is better than cure, so if you can stop stressful situations before they occur, you can stop the situation from getting worse – which can be a costly and exhausting process for everyone involved, not least to the individual.

If managers learn to spot the signs of stress and know how to handle the barriers that cause this poor mental health, businesses will be better off. Here’s how you can keep a lid on stress at work whilst looking at the bigger productivity picture…

GOOD TRAINING IS VITAL 

Do you recognise workplace stress? Do your managers know what to do if an employee goes off on long-term sick leave? Sure, HR departments should organise training to help employees meet their duty of care responsibilities as line managers. But equally, HR managers may also need training in learning how to approach stressed members of staff.

By investing in training and development around promoting health and wellbeing at work, your organisation can put real behaviour change into place.

According to CIPD, “wellbeing at work is not merely about managing a physical and cultural environment with limited aim of not causing harm to employees. It requires organisations to actively assist people to maximise their physical and mental health.”

Basically, what you put in, you’ll stand to get out.

THINK TALENT RETENTION

Are your employees able to meet objectives sensibly or are they spinning too many plates at once? If workload is too heavy, employees will be burnt out by long hours, becoming less productive in the long run. Sounds like a severe case of check mate.

Is it time to recruit back up staff, even for an interim, to help alleviate work load? If your business is facing a short, sharp, busy period, perhaps you could consider recruiting part-time or contract workers to help alleviate the stress.

There’s no doubt about it, employee retention is a pressing issue for businesses everywhere, with high turnover impacting company performance. If you’re running on a skeletal staffing structure, ask yourself, is this really fair to anyone? Sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate: invest in your people, and they’ll be invested in you.

Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin By Deloitte says, “Employers at CEO level down, have to realise that employees are your product. If your people do not feel committed, engaged, and supported, no product or services strategy can succeed. Some companies truly get this, but many still do not.” It’s time to believe in that unicorn. 

GIVE EMPLOYEES THE TOOLS THEY NEED

Do your people have the right tools to do their jobs to their best ability? If not, something may have to give. Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate’ study revealed that less than half (46%) of all employees say their employer supplies them with all the technology they need to do their job effectively.

Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive and Recognition, Sodexo, says, “productivity and each individual’s ability to do exceptional work is becoming more dependent on the tools they’re provided with.”

It’s like a bad dose of computer says no. Ironically though, technology is driving this need, with 72% of employees stating that technology is important to their overall productivity in the workplace. The rise of flexible working in the pursuit of better work-life balance is only going to bring this into sharper focus.

START A HEALTH AND WELLBEING PROGRAMME

Get senior management buy-in to implement a company-wide health and wellbeing programme, if you don’t already have one. If you do, you might want to measure how well it’s working for your business. Are you successfully communicating its benefits to your staff?

When you promote health and wellbeing at work, you can reduce absenteeism and help employees to feel valued and cared about. It’s an indicator that employers take their people’s health seriously. Not to get too fluffy, but it all filters into creating a positive workplace culture with wellbeing at its centre – something very real and very motivating.

This can cover everything from physical, financial and mental health. You may wish to use engagement specialists to offer staff access to a range of employee benefits that can stimulate wellbeing, like employee discount schemes such as discounted gym memberships or counselling services and free health screenings

MAKE EMPLOYEE WELLBEING A PRIORITY

If stress is affecting your employees, a plaster isn’t going to be the fast fix you need.

It’s only when you truly put staff at the heart of your company culture, that change can be affected. Create an employee experience that’s consistent and all encompassing and you can begin to build trust within your workforce and promote wellbeing as a whole.

As Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate’ study reveals, the troubles come when employers atomise their approach to workplace engagement. Josh Berson says, “The modern workforce sees everything that happens at work as an integrated experience.” Employers need to wise up. There’s no point having an amazing holiday buy back scheme or cycle to work scheme if your employees are on the floor under a mounting workload.  

Ask yourself, do you take employees’ requests for flexible working seriously? Do you encourage collaborative working or do you only have electronic relationships with your staff? Does your company recognise and reward times when employees perform to a higher level than normal?

At every turn, think about how you can design and deliver an inclusive and more personalised employee experience.

SHOW THEM YOU’RE HUMAN 

We’ve only heard half of the story, but the point is, employee wellbeing affects all areas of the employee experience – and it doesn’t have a quick ending. There’s no simple fix for boosting employee wellbeing. The important thing is to start.

Sodexo’s Director of Incentives and Recognition, Iain Thomson, explains, “Employee engagement isn’t a target that can be handed out today and achieved tomorrow. It comes from the beating heart of the organisation.”

Wherever your company’s at, by taking small steps, you can start to stamp out stress, build engagement and transform behaviour with recognition, support and understanding. Show your employees you’re human and they’ll respond in kind. It’s time to get real about employee wellbeing and leave the unicorns to the fairy tale books.

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