Many of us spend most of our waking hours at work, so our workplaces must be mentally healthy.
However, we know that work is a primary cause of stress for many of us. We can all relate to feeling stressed at work - a deadline looming, too many tasks to cram in and, sometimes, fear of making a mistake.
A survey for Mental Health Awareness Week has shown:
- one third (32%) of us find ourselves thinking about work in our personal time, causing us stress
- 28% of us feel less productive at work because of stress
- a quarter (23%) of us compromise our health to get work done; 16% of us compromise relationships
- one-fifth of us say that 'powering through' stress is part of our organisational culture.
But reducing stress in the workplace is possible, and we can all do something to help. Here are some top tips for you to help yourself, to help colleagues, and for line managers and employers.
Five tips for avoiding stress at work
Make sure you pay attention to how much sleep you need – and prioritise good sleep when you face busy work periods.
Use the breaks you have in your working day and your commute to ensure you get away from your desk/work area and do something different for yourself. Make sure you plan and use your holidays; if you become unwell, take time to recover.
Many of us run to caffeine, alcohol or junk food when we are up against it. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, try eating nutritious, healthy meals regularly and increasing your water intake while reducing caffeine and alcohol. Don’t eat at your desk or grab a sandwich on the move.
Try and get some exercise in your day – even if it's just a walk around the block between tasks. If you like the gym, it can help, but try not to exercise late at night as it can affect your sleep.
Take time to be with people you care about and to who you can vent – friends, partners and family are often happy to let you vent.
Five tips for helping a colleague who's stressed
- Ask what, if anything, you can do to help. Think about what you can offer beforehand as you must do what you say you will.
- Make sure you listen to what they say. Be sure you won't be distracted and pick a sensible time and place for a chat.
- Encourage them to do something nice for themselves that doesn't involve work. Invite them for a walk or lunch out of the office.
- If someone says they don’t want help, respect that. Not everybody wants to open up – that's their choice. If you are sincere and genuine, they'll know where you are if that changes.
- Address any gossip about a person's well-being. The stigma around stress and mental health problems stop people from coming forward and if you hear people talking, call them out.
Five tips for employers to create a workplace free of stress
- Do a risk assessment to understand and address psychological hazards at work. Have a mental health or well-being plan and senior staff to lead implementation.
- Encourage a workplace culture that lets people be authentic. Rewarding people for being open and encouraging them to speak out when facing challenges.
- Invest in line managers and line management. Help your managers to know their people as individuals and ensure people have protected time for one-to-one catch-ups.
- Recognise that we all have mental health and feel overwhelmed at times. Anticipate when people might be under stress for work or personal reasons and encourage support and self-care at those times.
- Provide basic support for staff through EAP and other services - for work and personal issues. Ideally, extend the cover to family members.
Five tips for managers to have a stress-free team
- Have regular face-to-face check-ins with your team. Make sure you are fully present and take time to ask people how they are and if anything is bothering them.
- Know what your organisation can do to help. If you have details of support inside and outside your workplace, you can give people the information they need to get help.
- Practice compassion. Try and understand the challenges people face and guide them to solutions - don’t take on people’s problems as your own or instantly go to solution mode. It’s not always helpful to the person and may increase your own stress.
- Think about how your working style affects others. If you like working long hours or you like clearing emails on the treadmill at 6 am your team may feel they have to respond in kind.
- Practice self-care and self-compassion. If your stress levels are affecting your well-being, you won’t be able to help your team achieve the desired results.