April saw the arrival of the annual Stress Awareness Month. This has been held every April since 1992 to help raise awareness of the negative impact of stress. It is the time when we have an opportunity for an open conversation on the effects of stress, and encourages dedicated time to removing the guilt, shame, and stigma around mental health.
There is no single definition of stress, but the most common explanation is physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension. While it should be remembered that not all stress is negative, long-term stress can have a detrimental impact on physical and mental health.
It is widely recognised that stress and poor mental health are one of the biggest public health challenges that our modern society is facing. The link between physical and mental health is often downplayed, but in reality, there is no health without mental health and long-term stress can lead to numerous health problems. From physical problems, like heart disease, insomnia, digestive issues, immune system challenges, to more serious mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
When it comes to stress at work, the Workplace Health Report (2022), led by Champion Health, highlighted an up-to-date view of the impact and prevalence of stress on UK employees. The results revealed four key employee stress statistics:
- 33% of employees report moderate-to-high or high levels of stress
- 28% report that high levels of stress impact productivity
- The top cause of work-related stress is workload (78%)
- 56% agree that the perfect amount of stress enables them to thrive
Starting a conversation about someone’s wellbeing in the workplace can be difficult. Often, as colleagues, we are perceptive to how our co-workers are feeling, and we may notice a change in demeanour which can indicate increased stress levels. We may worry that by broaching the topic we’ll make the situation worse or that we’re overstepping professional boundaries. Especially if someone has already said they are “fine”.
There are no perfect ways to start a conversation about someone’s wellbeing. Being non-judgemental, kind and empathetic is key. It is also vital to ensure the environment is right – perhaps invite your colleague to go for a lunchtime walk or meet in a private meeting room free of interruptions. For colleagues who work from home, ensure you reach out in different ways to keep lines of communication open – this could be through direct messaging or regular, informal calls just to check-in.
If you are going to open up a conversation, ensure your questions are open. Some suggestions might include: –
- “How are you today?” – Sometimes making it about the present can illicit more information than the common “I’m fine” response.
- “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed yourself lately, tell me how you’re feeling”
- “How do you look after yourself?”
- “What support do you have in place? Are there people you can talk to?”
- Reassure them it’s ok to talk.
- “I want you to know that I’m here to listen and help if you need me to.”
There are also several approaches organisations can take to address stress at work. The CIPD 2022 Health and wellbeing at work survey report identifies the most common methods used to identify and reduce stress in the workplace:
- Employee assistance programme
- Flexible working options/improved work–life balance
- Staff surveys and/or focus groups to identify causes
- Risk assessments/stress audits
- Training for line managers to manage stress
- Training aimed at building personal resilience (such as coping techniques, mindfulness)
- Involvement of occupational health specialists
- Stress management training for the whole workforce
- Written stress policy/guidance
If you need any support in implementing any of the above strategies or require advice in supporting employees reporting high stress levels, please do reach out for our specialist support here.