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Stress Awareness Month

17th April 2019

The Stress Management Society’s “Stress Awareness Month” kicks off this month. Its messages are likely to be helpful to employers keen to manage their employee health and wellbeing better, but effective stress management and transparency needs to be about permanent cultural and organisational change.

Employee health and wellbeing – get practical during “Stress Awareness Month”

This month is Stress Awareness Month, run by the Stress Management Society, and employers are being encouraged to talk about and engage with stress and its effects both inside and outside of work to help employees manage their mental health and wellbeing more effectively.

The society has outlined four things employers can prioritise during the month:

  • Talk openly about stress and its effects with friends, family and colleagues

  • Share coping mechanisms, especially if something has worked for you
  • Be nice to those who are stressed and anxious
  • Look after yourself

All of these are, of course, well and good, if perhaps a little simplistic. In truth, most employers recognise that effectively managing stress and anxiety within the workplace is a complex and multi-faceted challenge.

Moreover, despite the growing cost of mental ill health in terms of absence and days lost, it is also something too many employers are still ignoring, if latest research from risk management firm Aon is anything to go by.

Its 2019 Benefits and Trends Survey concluded that not enough employers have strategies in place to manage mental ill-health, musculoskeletal disorders and cancer. Despite mental ill-health being one of the major causes of sickness absence, only 41% of organisations polled had a formal strategy in place to help tackle it.

When, then, is to be done? Sure, promoting Stress Awareness Month and opening conversations about stress and mental ill health is certainly not going to do any harm.

But the key is for employers to recognise that, while yes stress and mental ill health can be challenging, you should not just wring your hands in despair and assume nothing can be done.

There are many practical things you can be doing to mitigate its effects within your organisation and improve employee health and wellbeing as a result, and often interventions that are not too difficult or expensive.

Resilience training and EAPs

For example, offering resilience training and access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can help individuals to manage their stress and anxiety and give managers greater confidence to know how and when to intervene.

Embracing and properly understanding the Health and Safety Executive’s management standards on workplace stress is often another good call.

This is especially in terms of understanding the six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates, namely: demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change.

This, in turn, highlights how managing stress and anxiety can bleed into simply embedding good people management techniques generally.

Creating an environment where people feel well enough led and supported to feel confident enough to say when they’re not coping can be a big step in the right direction.

One of the challenges with stress is that one’s person harmful anxiety is another’s positive adrenaline rush. Work and being at work can sometimes be challenging; we can find ourselves being pushed outside our comfort zone or working longer or harder than we’d like.

Importance of finding a balance

So, employers need to find a balance between giving employees the challenges and opportunities to allow them to reach their full potential and productivity without tipping them over into a spiral of stress and anxiety.

As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, makes clear: “As an employer, it is important to recognise that you can’t do everything; you can’t banish stress per se from your workplace, nor should you want to, as some pressure is often beneficial.

“But what you can do is create the environment to ensure that when or if demands or stress triggers begin to tip someone over from coping to not coping – and these of course could be a combination of work-related and non-work-related triggers – there are effective support mechanisms in place.

“These could be as simple as a sympathetic manager or flat, flexible structures that allow people to step back and regroup mentally through to access to a trusted occupational health practitioner, through to an EAP or even mental health first aid.

“The key is to be recognising that just as stress and anxiety can be triggered by many different factors and present in multiple ways, so how you respond as an employer or manager may need to be nuanced, sophisticated and multi-level,” she adds.