For a small business operating with just a few people, stress can be a massive problem that can bring the business to its knees.
Business owners or employees under stress will be less productive, make stupid mistakes and bad decisions, and create an awful working environment.
You’ll know when it’s happening, because customer complaints will rise, as will the amount of absence through sickness, and staff turnover. Ironically the symptoms of stress can lead to more stress.
We all need a little stress to operate efficiently, but it’s when the balance is wrong that we suffer.
Running your own business can be particularly stressful as the buck stops with you. You must take full responsibility for everything that happens in the business, and often that means you must do much of the work as well.
This high workload can create immense pressure. If you have to do everything (or feel like you have to do everything) it makes it hard to take a day off to truly relax – essential to keep your body and mind healthy.
Stress can also be caused by internal pressures. The recent National Stress Awareness Day focused on people taking action rather than worrying about things. This is particularly relevant for business owners. Who hasn’t laid awake at night worrying about a client or where the next sale will come from?
It is vital that you identify levels of stress that you and your team are exposed to and take steps to control it. Not only is this essential for a healthy business, but you have a legal duty to ensure staff aren’t made ill by their work. This includes protecting their mental and physical wellbeing from the effects of stress.
This doesn’t have to be difficult, with Bytestart’s guide to dealing with stress in a small business:
It is much more effective to prevent stress getting a grip on your business than deal with the consequences. That means taking steps to remove the causes, and keeping an eye out for the early warning signs in your team. Look at their workloads and how work is scheduled.
People who are not performing may feel there is too much to do, and not know where to start. Can you help them prioritise and take a reality check about their workload? Look at working relationships within the team and keep a check on the physical working environment. All of these things are potential stress triggers.
It can be useful to ask your team to list the things they enjoy and hate about their jobs. You may spot a trend, giving you an insight into a stress trigger you need to tackle.
It’s also worth keeping in touch with what’s happening in your team’s personal lives. A relationship breakdown or other problems at home can cause them to bring stress to work, even if they leave the problem at the door.
You know the behaviour of your “employee from hell”? Actually, they may just be under a lot of stress. The symptoms of stress are the kind of behavioural traits no-one wants to see in their staff.
Watch out for tiredness and irritability, or unusual changes in the quality of work. Normally fun employees can lose their sense of humour or start to make bad judgement calls. They can also start to be physically ill more often – a cold that “won’t go away”, or regular headaches perhaps.
You may also see a change in patterns of work or timekeeping. Basically keep an eye out for any long-term negative change in behaviour. Incidentally, do you recognise any of these symptoms for yourself? It can be hard to spot stress happening to you; but the people around you will spot it. As the boss of your business you must ensure your own wellbeing.
The best treatment for stress is to remove the cause. If it is work problems then look at workload or reduce targets. Change the physical environment if needed, or encourage people to work more closely together. You can ease people’s performance back up again once their health is in a better condition.
You can also encourage your team to manage their own stress, by giving them control over their own workload or performance. Use regular performance reviews to maintain control and ensure key targets are met.
If the stress is being caused outside work, encourage your team to take their full holiday entitlement, and consider giving extra paid leave to sort significant problems out. Not only will this help someone cope with a relationship problem or family illness, but it should increase their loyalty to your business.
Whatever steps you take, remember that it is more important to tackle the causes of stress than try to treat the symptoms.