When analysing and considering the risks to workplace health and safety, it can be easy to focus on the obvious factors; the physical risks and dangers associated directly with the job. Physical risks aren’t the only risks to employee health and safety, though.
In the last 12 months, approximately 20% of Australians reported having taken time off work for mental health-related reasons, including stress. The true number is likely much higher, however, as many employees also report that they do not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues involving work.
Increasing awareness of mental health issues such as stress in the workplace and developing strategies for handling them should be a priority for every company. Most people feel stressed at some point — during the final crunch time for a big project for instance — but if the problem becomes chronic it can lead to further long-term problems, both mental and physical.
Managing Stress in the Workplace
Developing effective strategies for managing stress in the workplace is a crucial step in protecting your employees long-term mental and physical health. Strategies for managing stress in the workplace involve both developing systems that will reduce the amount of stress employees experience, but also providing access to resources for identifying and relieving stress when it develops.
Everybody should be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress so they can identify when things are getting too much and act before more serious problems develop. It can be hard to identify stress in others so it is important that employees are aware of the symptoms to enable them to self-diagnose and seek help.
The symptoms of stress fall into two categories, physical and non-physical. Physical symptoms are often the harder of the two to identify as they can be easily dismissed as the symptoms of other ailments. Physical symptoms can include: chest pain, fatigue, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, cold or flu-like symptoms, muscle tension or pain, fast or shallow breathing, excessive sweating, and changes to sleep patterns or appetite. Non-physical symptoms can include: feeling overwhelmed, feeling guilty or unhappy, irritability, indecisiveness, loss of confidence, negative thoughts, racing thoughts, excessive worrying, and memory problems.
Identifying the symptoms of stress is only the beginning. Employees must not only be on the lookout for the symptoms, but they must also have a way to speak up if they think they or others are displaying them.
Providing a system where employees can feel safe and secure reporting their concerns without fear of judgement or punishment will make it more likely that the stresses can be managed and reduced before they become a serious or chronic problem.
Overworking is an obvious stress-inducing factor, but maintaining reasonable work hours is only one part of the solution. Excessive workloads that are unachievable can leave employees feeling stressed and overwhelmed. In addition to setting reasonable working hours, the amount of work and work completion targets should be at levels that are achievable.
Ambiguity can be a major stress factor for many people. Unclear work assignments can lead to confusion and stress. Always set clear outlines for the tasks to be completed and the way they should be completed. Furthermore, regularly verify that everybody assigned to a job has the relevant training and experience, providing top-up training where required.
Building on the strategies of setting reasonable workloads and clear instructions, it’s also important that employees receive regular breaks where they can unwind and decompress. The length and regularity of the breaks are just as important as the ability for employees to be able to get away from work. If possible providing access to gardens or relaxation rooms, as often seen in technology companies, will help to give employees a way to relax and unwind for work-related stresses.
Diet can have a major influence on mental health and stress. While it’s unlikely diet will cause a major issue by itself it can be a contributing factor, and the right choices can aid in reducing stress levels. Offering healthier, colourful options such as fruit and vegetables in the company canteen or break-room can go a long way to help people feel more positive and less stressed.
If left unresolved, conflict in the workplace can fester and develop into a major stress factor. Unfortunately, conflict is also often unavoidable. Focusing on handling and resolving conflicts quickly, and equally important, fairly, is a critical strategy in managing stress.
How Can Conserve Help You With Workplace Stress?
Conserve’s industry-leading contractor and workplace safety management system can help you and your company to implement and monitor your strategies for managing stress. Using our systems, either independently or as part of an internal solution, you can review workplace incident reports to detect trends that may be contributing to workplace stress, verify training to ensure everybody is capable of their assigned tasks, and track job site location allocations to prevent unreasonable travel and work hours.
Speak to the team at Conserve today to see how we can help alleviate workplace stress for you and your employees.