Managing Stress At Work

In a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) it was reported that the number of sick days taken by UK employees per year was down. This statistic looks like good news for anyone in a managerial position, as having a member of your team missing for even just a few days creates additional work load and stress for the other team members.

Unfortunately, the survey revealed that the decrease in sick days was not due to improved employee health, rather it was because the employees felt that their job would be at risk if they took time off as “sick”. Job insecurity is known to be a major contributing factor in stress at work, and a vicious cycle can quickly develop where genuinely sick employees feel stressed if they take time off.

Whilst it would be unrealistic to have a completely stress free work environment all of the time, monitoring and managing stress levels in the team is an important responsibility those with line management responsibilities.

Apart from job insecurity, the three well-recognised causes of stress at work are:

1. Excessive workload (and the long-hours culture this creates)
2. Working in an organisation undergoing frequent and dramatic changes
And
3. The management style adopted by your immediate line manager.

Managers can support their team members in managing stress by first recognising the symptoms of stress and then acting on the causes. The symptoms of stress will vary from person to person but can be categorised under six main headings:

1. Organisational symptoms, such as work piling up
2. Behavioural symptoms, such as indecisiveness
3. Physiological symptoms, such as headaches
4. Emotional symptoms, such as bad temper
5. Cognitive symptoms, such as irrational thinking
6. Social symptoms, such as withdrawing from the team

The first thing that managers can do if they recognise any of these symptoms in their team members is to improve the effectiveness of their communications. In particular, they need to focus on improving both the quantity and quality of the communication they have with the person showing stress symptoms.

Making more opportunities to communicate demonstrates that you care about the other person. Improving the quality of your communication, by listening actively rather than talking, ensures that the concerns and fears that your stressed team member is experiencing are understood. Only then can you, as a manager, address the root cause of the problems causing stress and provide the appropriate stress management support to the team member to help them deal effectively with their stress.