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Why do figures show such an increase in stress related problems in recent years? Has that much changed? In short, yes! There are a number of factors, and these are an indicator and not a comprehensive list.
What can organisations do to monitor and manage stress risk?
- Workloads – reductions in headcount yet same or more work expected of people left behind
- The pace of life, hassles with getting around, speed of response to things
- Expectations – of self and others
- Lack of control over aspects of our lives
- Values not being met or having to operate in conflict with our values
One of first things to acknowledge that there is a risk. Too many managers, especially senior executives, want to hide their heads in sand and deny that there is a problem, or potential problem. They certainly do not want to suggest that they may be a significant contributor to problem! Stress is not a problem confined to executive suite! In fact, a higher percentage of workforce down line will suffer stress-related problems than senior management. Having said that, consequences to organisation and people of an over-stressed senior manager can be horrendous!
The organisation can use a number of factors to assess whether there is problem. As in most forms of good management, gathering data is key. Work from facts and not only conjecture, though do not ignore it.
One of “standards” is to look at absenteeism, both levels and any patterns. Is level static or increasing? Is any area of organisation suffering more than others? What happens when employees return to work, do you have a meeting with them to find out real reasons for absence, and what you can do to prevent them recurring? Also, will organisation offer support to help employee? If there is a pattern in one area, what is being done to address cause? (Is it nature of work, or manager or environment?)
Look at quality information. Is there an increase in errors, customer complaints or, are other standards not being achieved? Before chasing teams or individuals and demanding improvements, explore why things have begun to slip. Talk to people about what is going on and how they feel.
What is happening to staff turnover figures? Any trends apparent? Is organisation using exit interviews to find real reasons behind departure?
To get a proper overview as an organisation, a good starting point is to carry out a simple audit. Questions in these areas will help to get an immediate sense of where organisation is in terms of meeting HSE criteria. It will also highlight where issues may occur.
How well would your workplace score? Which areas could do with some attention? Remember, prevention is usually preferable to cure in most things. In this case, it is almost certainly a less expensive option! Pay attention to these factors and organisation can start to address stress early on, preventing it becoming a problem.
- The culture of your organisation - how does it approach work-related stress?
- Demands on people, such as workload and exposure to physical hazards. Is work sensibly scheduled so that workload levels are right?
- Control over their work and way they do it – how much say do staff have? Are managers reasonable in their expectations and treatment of their teams?
- Relationships – how do you deal with issues such as bullying or harassment? (Another point, up to 1 in 5 people report they have been bullied at work.)
- Organisational change – how is it managed and communicated?
- Understanding of role – do individuals understand their role in organisation? Does organisation ensure that individuals do not have conflicting roles or challenges? (Is there a clear definition of roles?)
- Support and training from peers and line managers for person to be able to do core functions of job – do you cater for individual needs and differences?
Another thing for management team to do, is to develop an understanding of stress, its causes, symptoms and consequences. They can then begin to operate in a way which will create a healthier organisation. They can monitor “health” using approach above – and then set about managing to maintain a healthy environment. The secret to stress management is not about learning to relax, exercise or other coping strategies, although these do help. It is about getting to cause of problem and dealing with it from there. Good management practices, good communication, and supporting and caring for people will all help to reduce risk of stress. Reduce stress and you reduce risks in many other areas of business.
Graham Yemm a founding partner of Solutions 4 Training Ltd. He has worked with many different organisations around the world conducting both training and consultancy assignments. He is a Master Practitioner of NLP and an accredited trainer for the LAB profile programme – “Words that Change Minds”. Contact,