If you identify that an individual or group is suffering with stress, you know you need to address it, to stop any negative impact it’s having and avoid the problem becoming worse. So what should you do about it? Here are ten key steps you can take to address a stress problem.
1. Find root causes
First you need to do what you can to find out the root cause of the stress, and make adjustments where at all possible. Root causes may be related to workload, relationships at work, lack of support, poor management or organisational change, but addressing your specific stress problem means identifying what specifically is causing it, rather than simply taking the most common causes and looking at those.
You can find out the root cause through asking staff, either specific employees who you identify are suffering from work-related stress on an individual basis, or by asking staff more widely about the key factors that are, or may be causing stress in their team.
2. Take notice
Reassure staff that you are listening to their concerns and taking the problem seriously. Make sure they feel involved and listened to, and confident that you are taking steps to help resolve the problems and support them.
3. Discourage ‘eye rolling’
There is frequently a problem with ‘eye-rolling’ when an employee is identified as suffering from stress or is absent with stress. Either managers or other staff can be very disparaging or intolerant and impatient, and of course whatever steps you take to deal with the problem, if the team are unsupportive or dismissive of the problem, it is less likely to go away.
Lead by example in taking it seriously, and make sure staff as a whole understand that suffering with stress is not a sign of weakness, can be caused or exacerbated by a number of factors, and is something that can happen to everyone.
4. Encourage seeking help
If a staff member highlights they are suffering from stress symptoms, encourage them to seek help from elsewhere, usually from their GP as a first point of call.
If the stress is mainly work-related, there might be limited other external options you can point them to, but things like online tools for stress reduction and meditation apps can also be good, in combination with workplace steps to address the problem.
5. Use occupational health
A good occupational health specialist can provide you with advice on adjustments you can make to address stress-related health problems. This would usually be in the form of a referral for a specific individual, and just as they might advise adjustments to support an employee suffering from physical ill-health, the same would be true of mental ill-health, including work-related stress.
6. Provide counselling
Employee Assistance Programmes don’t have to be too costly, and can involve a helpline with telephone counselling available for staff. You may even have something already through insurance you have, so check, and if so, make sure details are available to staff and that they are encouraged to use it, for work-related and any other problems they may have.
7. Change management style
Management style is highly likely to at least partially be the problem, so take steps to address this as quickly as possible. That might involve coaching or training for managers, or implementing changes in how things operate in your business.
Look at implementing a bit more structure in performance management, increasing the frequency of line manager one-to-ones, or taking steps as a business owner to make sure you are holding your managers accountable for managing staff in a supportive way.
8. Improve relationships
Think about how you can improve relationships at work. It could be a specific team-building event (although the thought of those can fill people with horror!), or just some social time, fostering a more relaxed atmosphere and encouraging collaboration. If you organise some social events, make these as inclusive as possible, considering factors like childcare issues/other personal commitments.
If there is a specific problem with relationships in a team, some external mediation can really work wonders. A trained experienced mediator will know how to unpick problems and facilitate solutions to prevent recurrence.
9. Adjust workload
A heavy workload is the most common specific cause of work-related stress. Are you expecting too much of your staff? In many small businesses simply recruiting additional staff isn’t really an option due to tight budgets, but if workloads are too high you can consider alternative approaches to make them more manageable.
Are there things staff are doing that really actually aren’t necessary at all? Eliminate all tasks that don’t actually add value. It would be very unusual if there are none of these, and you can find out what they are by asking staff.
Are tasks being completed as efficiently as possible? Again you can ask staff this, but there are bound to be some tasks being completed in your business that are involving duplication or inefficiency. Addressing those can reduce workloads without costing money.
Is there technology you can use to reduce workload? This might involve more of a financial investment obviously, but may be worth looking at, even if its only as a longer-term aim than an immediate solution.
10. Improve job design
A high degree of control over their work can be a key factor in reducing stress, so look at how jobs are designed in your team. Can adjustments be made so that employees have a bit more control over what they are doing, more decision-making capacity within their role? This isn’t always possible but there are usually at least minor adjustments you can make to processes and procedures or task allocation to increase employees’ sense of control and independence a little.
A combination of quickly addressing specific issues identified and also improving the wider common factors should help reduce your stress problem significantly, and hopefully will involve systemic changes that will contribute to preventing stress problems in the future.
If you need further advice on addressing a stress problem in your business, do get in touch.