What can employers do to help reduce the stress levels of their employees

People smiling

A bit of pressure in your work life can create excitement, challenges, and help push yourself further performance-wise. But if the demands become too much, they can lead to work-related stress.

We asked Cate Murden, founder of corporate wellbeing and performance company PUSH about how employers can help alleviate stress in the workplace.

Why do you think mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is having a moment right now?

We’ve never experienced mental ill health as much as we are now. We’ve never been up against so much. The combination of our capacity to work because of technology, making us so available, plus tech overwhelming us, plus organisations working in old and traditional ways, all these things are having an impact on us as human beings and our mental health has never been affected so much. Never before have we needed to look after ourselves so much and understand how to work in a different way.

Why is stress at work a problem for employers?

The way that we’re working isn’t really working and it’s having an impact on how people are feeling. Productivity is being affected because people are disengaged, their energy levels are lower and their outputs are nowhere near as good as they could be. Ultimately, it means being signed off sick.

According to Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) only 11% of employees feel able to tell their line manager about their mental health issue. If people feel that they can’t express to their manager that they are stressed, how can you identify if your employees are experiencing work-related stress?

Differences in their behaviour is a common sign, but before you even get to that, just asking people if they’re okay in general can help. If you have the kind of environment where you are asking people if they are okay on a regular basis, when they are showing signs or not, you’re already building the relationships for people to be comfortable talking about how they feel. Even if they are acting different or work is slipping, but the work environment means they aren’t comfortable with the question “are you okay”, you won’t get a truthful answer.

What are some of the most common causes of work-related stress and where can employers begin to make changes in these areas?

Often the greatest cause of stress in employees stems from the relationship with their manager. We need to see people feeling more confident in their conversations with their manager, their manager developing better leadership styles, people having constructive conversations with HR.

Secondly, deadlines and the pressure to meet them are quite common causes of stress. This also comes down to communication skills and feeling prepared and confident to have those conversations with clients or with management about what is reasonable and what isn’t. There’s a need to understand how to focus better.

Lastly, financial security is a large cause of stress - especially among the younger, financially insecure generation worried about their inability to afford to own property, in particular in a city like London. Although it isn’t an employer’s responsibility to make their people feel financially secure, they can ensure they are treating their people fairly - and that’s not just to do with direct renumeration. When an individual decides to stay with a company, it’s not about money, it’s about feeling supported whilst working for an employer who understands that you have a life outside of work. Employers can offer financial planning advice so their employees are better equipped to manage their personal finances and deal with any specific triggers.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the benefits you provide, it’s about creating brilliant open cultures where people can thrive and be at their best. This comes from having honest conversations, creating psychological safety and most of all thinking about how we can build energy rather than draining it – truly putting our people first.

If you are trying to change perceptions within your business about mental health, how do you start?

It’s always great to get people talking openly about mental health – in order to normalise it. We always suggest a culture where you simply ask ‘are you okay?’ more frequently as a start point.

It’s also really valuable to get people to start talking about their own experiences. This can work in a number of ways but maybe choose some advocates to lead this. Advocates should stretch across the business, including a broad range of people across different departments and different levels. Make sure this group includes leaders within your organisation and those that are very vocal and/or well-respected—we call them ‘friendly foghorns’ – they’ll really help start the conversations.

Finally, we provide therapeutic coaching-surgeries to many of our clients as a means of creating more open environments. It shows you care as a company and provides a confidential, non-judgemental space for people to speak openly and work on solutions to their challenges. Once you start a process like this, you set a tone for openness which trickles through the whole company.
 

PUSH is a leading wellbeing and performance company working with organisations to craft programmes of personal and professional development so that they can increase profits, reduce attrition and have happy, high-performing people in a brilliant culture. Find out more about Cate and PUSH.