In light of Stress Awareness Month, we sat down with our Client Lifecycle Management KYC Team Manager, Andrew Purslow, to discuss how managers can better help their employees handle stress and how individuals can take steps to improve their mental health. We also look at what it means to successfully reinvent the workplace so that employee wellbeing becomes a part of your company culture.
What have you seen in your career that has had a negative impact on employee stress levels?
Poor communication – resulting in undefined, misaligned expectations between managers and employees – is a major contributor to increased stress in the workplace. As managers it is our responsibility to ensure everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities and most importantly what are the measures of success for each individual employee.
Unmanageable workload over a prolonged period is another factor. This can come about in two forms: The manager expects too much from an employee or an employee is afraid to reject work, even when they have reached their limit. You could argue that both are a result of poor communication. Regardless of the reason, a prolonged period of time where an individual is under pressure to deliver more work than can reasonably be expected of them can result in burn out.
How do we reduce or manage stress as individuals?
Individuals can better manage their stress by taking regular breaks away from their desks, having a healthy lifestyle, including healthy diet and regular exercise.
Likewise, it is important to maintain a good work life balance. One should avoid the temptation to spend long evenings and weekends working. During COVID this has been more challenging, but defining boundaries is one thing anyone can do, regardless of the pandemic. For example, I could decide that I will only work until 6pm tonight. Prioritising workload, i.e. which tasks can wait until tomorrow, are two ways of overcoming this.
To reduce stress, we should focus only on the things we can control or change. In my experience, many people tend to fear or stress over things which they have no influence or control over. It is important to contextualise problems rather than catastrophising. I find it helpful to play out the possible scenarios and think rationally about what the potential outcomes could be, rather than feeling stressed regarding an outcome that is unlikely to be as bad as it initially may seem.
Most importantly if you are feeling stressed – talk to someone. Sometimes you can become so overwhelmed with a situation but talking it through can give you a new perspective. A problem shared, really is a problem halved.
What advice would you give other managers to help identify stress within their department?
The most important thing for me is getting to know your team members and recognising when their behaviours change. Stress can present itself in a variety of ways depending on the individual. Becoming withdrawn, lack of motivation, reduced patience, or becoming more sensitive or tearful can all be signs of stress. This is why it is very important that we understand what “normal” behaviour for the individuals within our teams is.
How can managers better support employees who are feeling stressed?
We’ve all experienced stress in various ways throughout our careers. Show your employees that you understand their struggle, and that you can empathise with how they are feeling.
Provide a safe environment where employees feel they can talk about how they are feeling whether this is in a team environment or through one-on-one meetings. Lead by example and ensure as managers we are talking about not just stress but mental health in general. It can be useful to include a wellbeing “check-in” as part of catch ups and one-on-one meetings.
Actively listen to your teams and understanding how they are feeling and why they are feeling stressed. Coaching individuals to help them find a way of coping with the stress they are feeling can help you minimize effects of stress on the entire team in the long-term. And as managers, we should consider our own actions. Is there anything we are doing which is causing stress? Do we need to re-think our approach with certain employees?
How do you think COVID has impacted stress in the workplace?
Lack of distinction between work and home life has been the most significant stressor due to COVID. There is no longer a commute to and from the office to provide the differentiation between what is work and what is personal time. This can result in a temptation to work longer hours as the office is effectively part of your home life.
For some employees, including myself, the additional pressures of home schooling have added significant stress. Trying to balance maintaining productivity and commitment to work whilst providing a safe and happy environment for our children to learn and grow in is a difficult balancing act.
For some, it has provided benefits such as being able to exercise on lunch breaks, or reduced commute time.
What changes would you make to reinvent the workplace in order to manage stress?
COVID has provided lots of challenges but I think we can learn a lot from the last twelve months. One of the main positives to come out of the pandemic is that we have been able to continue business as usual whilst working remotely. Although, not necessarily a “reinvention”, the ability for more of a flexible approach to working from home can be a positive outcome for many – myself included.
Traditionally, the burden of dealing with stress has relied entirely on individuals, with the workplace being left out of the equation. But as we have discussed, lack of communication and unbalanced workloads can cause a considerable amount of stress to employees and managers alike.
To reinvent the workplace, it is crucial to put employee needs first when engineering a company culture and benefits packages. Enhanced healthcare, family leave, pension, and annual leave entitlements can all reduce employee stress related to health and finances. This allows them to focus more on work. But efforts should not stop there. Creating an open and transparent culture, which fosters communication between managers and their teams, as well as between managers of different departments, is crucial for not only project success, but employee stress reduction.
At Delta Capita, we have several current initiatives, and many more pending, geared around improving workplace wellbeing. For example, we have mental health awareness sessions for managers, “Time to Talk” discussions, and mindfulness meditation sessions. We support our employees and managers alike during times of stress – whether it be from their personal or professional life.
From sharing healthy recipes and step challenges to buddy schemes and wellness action plans, Delta Capita focuses on giving its team the tools they need to succeed.
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