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5 Simple ways for SMEs to address workplace stress

May 15, 2018

workplace stressThis year, Mental Health Awareness Week (14 – 20 May) is shining a spotlight on stress.

With one in six adults experiencing depression, anxiety or issues relating to stress at any one time, it’s important for smaller employers to recognise the signs that their team may be under too much stress.

Here, Jaan Madan of Mental Health First Aid England, highlights five ways small businesses can address workplace stress.

Over the past few years, there has been encouraging progress made in improving mental health awareness across society, including in the workplace. However, there is more work to do.

New workplace stress research, launched in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, shows only 14% of employees are comfortable speaking to a manager about stress.

SMEs can play a particularly important role in addressing the stigma around mental health at work. Small businesses can often be more flexible, implementing workplace changes more quickly to help employees feel confident and supported when talking about issues like stress at work.

There are some simple changes that can make a big impact when it comes to workplace wellbeing. Understanding more about stress and its effect on both employees and employers is a good starting point.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response when it senses danger. We all experience stress and need it to function, and healthy amounts of stress can be a motivator at work.

But when stress interferes with our lives, it becomes a problem. Too much stress, for too long, can make us ill. If unaddressed, stress can cause mental health issues like depression or anxiety and harm our physical health.

It may not always be obvious that a team member is struggling with stress so it’s important to regularly check in with your colleagues.

Last year, 12.5 million working days were lost due to work related stress, depression or anxiety. With stress being such a widespread issue, here are five simple ways for small businesses to tackle stress in the workplace;

1. Encourage leaders to speak out

Leading from the front and talking about the importance of good mental health helps create transparency around the issue. Crucially, it gives employees confidence that their wellbeing is taken seriously, and that discussing mental health at work is okay.

The Mental Health Foundation research published this week shows that almost one in ten employees (9%) are unable to admit stress is the real reason for their workplace absence, so it’s clear that much more needs to be done to help remove the stigma associated with mental health.

Business leaders can make an impact by sharing their own experience of how they manage stress levels as well as demonstrating healthy behaviours such as leaving on time and taking regular breaks.

This is particularly important for SMEs, where leaders are often more visible and work more closely with employees.

2. Support managers to spot the signs

Managers have a unique role in ensuring employees are supported to overcome challenges with stress. They should be able to recognise the signs and symptoms that a colleague is experiencing too much stress and feel confident offering basic support or signposting to expert advice.

It’s also important that managers are mindful of their own wellbeing and that, like senior leaders, they champion healthy behaviours.

Promoting regular conversations around wellbeing is vital and checking in regularly with members of their team, even if it’s just a ten-minute conversation to ask how they are, could make all the difference to help someone open-up about an issue that is causing them stress.

Many employers are adopting Mental Health First Aid training to enable managers to offer more support in the workplace.

3. Remove pressure to be ‘always on’

Stress can easily arise from the pressure to be ‘always on’. The research published this week reveals a third of people (32%) worry about work on their own time. And in a busy working world, it’s easy for employees to slip into bad habits such as checking emails late at night and over the weekend.

Reminding employees to take a break and encouraging them to switch off from work can help combat presenteeism to ensure they are more energised and motivated during the hours they do spend in the office.

Some employers go further and prohibit employees from eating lunch at their desks or sending emails out of operating hours.

4. Incentivise healthy habits

We all have mental health just as we have physical health and they are both connected.

A healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity are some of the key foundations of good mental health. Exercise releases endorphins while eating well and avoiding too much sugar and caffeine are both helpful strategies to reduce stress.

There are a number of simple ways that employers can encourage employees to embed these as part of their daily routine.

Providing fresh fruit, healthy company breakfasts or a fitness scheme with a local gym are all simple wellbeing policies that improve mental, as well as physical health.

5. Tools and tips

Stress can often arise from range of emotional, physical and environmental factors rather than a single source.

Everyone deals with stress differently. It’s important to provide all employees with clear information to help them understand what stress is, what the key sources are and some helpful coping methods for dealing with it.

An Employee Assistance Programme can deliver practical support for staff and bring about a more productive team.

Through sharing resources employees to can be encouraged and empowered to take ownership of their own mental health.

Further workplace health resources

There are a number of free and practical guides available from leading mental health charities, as well as from ACAS.

The ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit has been created for Mental Health Awareness Week to help employers and employees identify the sources and signs of stress and take steps to help reduce the impact.

There is more about Mental Health First Aid training for your workplace at: mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace and you can glean lots of practical advice in these ByteStart guides;

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Jaan Madan, the Workplace Lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England CIC, heading up the organisation’s engagement with workplaces in a broad range of sectors.

More help from ByteStart

ByteStart is packed with help on all aspects of starting and running your own successful business, some other popular guides include;

Motivating your team

Employing staff

Employment Law

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