Stress, anxiety and depression affect more than one in five employees in Australia according to the recent report, Investing to Save, developed by Mental Health Australia and KPMG. In fact, the cost of stress-related absenteeism and presenteeism (turning up when unfit to do so) in the workplace is estimated to cost the Australian economy $60 billion a year. So what are the best ways for dealing with stress at work? And what can employers do to minimise stress and support their teams?
- Break the Cycle
If your job regularly exposes you to high levels of stress, try and find ways to punctuate your day with non-stressful activities. This may sound obvious but it’s surprising how quickly we ‘forget’ to actually implement this. The trick is to actually diarise events or activities in your schedule to break the daily cycle of stress. This could be something as simple as meeting a friend or colleague for a quick 15 minute coffee or something more habitual such as switching off our mobile phone for an hour every day at the same time.As an employer, maybe you could implement some company-wide initiatives such as encouraging ‘no internal emails’ for a couple of hours a week, which has a number of benefits including more face to face communication and connection and also encouraging people to get up from their desks and walk around a bit more.
- Learn to recognise the symptoms of stress
Stress manifests itself in so many ways, both physically and mentally and to be able to effectively deal with it we first need to be able to recognise when it’s actually affecting us. Many people claim they don’t ‘feel stressed’ but may not associate disrupted sleep patterns or feeling unable to concentrate as symptoms of stress. Try and learn to recognise these cues as indicators of your mental health.It’s also important to recognise that when we’re stressed we interpret and react to things differently. We’re all hard-wired for survival but stress exaggerates the fight or flight response. This often means that we perceive more ‘threats’ and are therefore more likely to react defensively to a situation. If we are able to become more aware of our stress levels, we are more likely to be able to compensate for this and stop ourselves from over-reacting to a situation. Viewing a situation as a challenge rather than a threat can increase our sense of control and help mitigate the stress response.
As an employer, equipping yourself with the knowledge and tools to recognise stress in your employees can be invaluable. The Standard Mental Health First Aid course, developed by MHFA, is an excellent resource to help you or members of your team recognise the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and ultimately help you in effectively dealing with stress at work. You could even consider implementing a peer support program and designate someone to be a Mental Health First Aider.
As Gary Belfield at KPMG highlights in the ‘Investing To Save’ report: “Our detailed review of the evidence suggests that interventions such as enhanced job control, resilience training and stress management can deliver significant improvements in employee mental health. Overall, we found that such workplace interventions can generate return on investment of $1.30 to over $4.70 for every dollar spent.”
- Take A Break
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stress you’re experiencing at work, remember that there are so many resources available to you. If you feel able to, talk to your line manager or someone in the organisation who you feel you can trust to be supportive. And ultimately, it is far better to take a break from the work environment to allow yourself to reset the dial rather than turning up every day and getting into a vicious circle of increased stress and decreased performance and effectiveness. None of us operate at our optimum once stress has reached an extreme level and in some cases you might even be putting other team members at risk if you’re making bad decisions.And as an employer or manager, it is far better to take a proactive approach and talk to staff regularly to evaluate how they’re coping, whether unreasonable demands are being made of them and offer appropriate support as they need it. By demonstrating your openness and de-stigmatising the discussion around someone’s mental health you are far more likely to effect a positive change for the individual sooner rather than later. This, in turn, should result in a swifter return to work should someone need to take time off and help to build trust within the team.
We all face challenges in our jobs but finding effective mechanisms for dealing with stress at work is the first step to developing mentally healthy and resilient workplaces.
If you would like further support with dealing with stress at work and helping develop a mentally healthy, resilient workforce, give the team at Head Strong Workplaces a call today on 0438 770 850 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.