It’s no secret that a happy workforce is a productive one. Maintaining a positive working environment can provide a major motivation for employees, and it’s plain to see when staff are enjoying the work they do.
But one thing that’s not always apparent is the level of stress that employees are subject to. Stress is an inevitable part of working life, but how can employers and managers identify when employee stress oversteps normal levels and begins to creep into everyday office life? Being quick to respond can mean the difference between having a motivated, focused workforce, and an over-worked, unengaged one.
How does stress affect you?
We conducted a survey to better understand the underlying causes of stress. We spoke with over 2,000 employees about their individual experiences of stress at work, and we also conducted stress temperature tests with hundreds of volunteers where workers measured their stress levels via a stress ‘thermometer’ at regular intervals in a working week.
Almost half (46%) of HR staff admitted that workplace stress affects their health, with more than a quarter (27%) going on to identify inconsiderate bosses as one of the main causes for such stress. Furthermore, a similar proportion (29%) said that they felt undervalued in their job due to a lack of receiving any thanks or acknowledgement for successfully completing tasks.
Senior management play an important role in creating and exemplifying the working culture of a business. An important part of building positive relationships with staff is to ensure that regular feedback is provided both during and after the completion of tasks. Even a simple thank you goes a long way to informing an employee that their efforts are appreciated, and has a long-lasting effect that acts as a motivator greater than the sum of its parts.
Managing skills helps individuals, not just a business
Another key factor drawn from the study is the importance of managing, and where needed, increasing staff skill levels. More than two fifths (42%) said that incompetent colleagues are the leading source of stress at work, with a fifth (21%) also noting that they felt the need to work overtime because their workplace lacks colleagues with fundamental skills necessary to carry out their job. Clearly, staff should never be left to feel that they have to overcompensate for skills gaps; equally, managers can ensure that this does not materialise by providing appropriate training aimed at giving staff the key skills required for their jobs.
Facilitate a work/life balance
Workers can also be subject to a huge degree of stress simply due to the sheer volume of work they are dealing with. The classic work/life balance is a tricky one to get right. As might be expected, almost a quarter (24%) of people said that failing to strike a work/life balance played a major role in contributing to workplace stress.
While workload itself is often not something that can be easily shifted, introducing measures to help staff cope with high work volumes can be a valuable addition to an HR agenda. With a bit of creativity, the scope for initiatives is almost endless. Short team coffee breaks are an easy way of allowing workers to refocus their thoughts before returning to their desk with a fresh perspective.
Indeed, opening up the floor to employees themselves can generate a feel for the sort of initiatives that will work best for your office and its workers. This is exactly what we did when speaking to those who took part in our study, and in doing so got to the heart of what would benefit employees. Interestingly, non-financial incentives were the overwhelming preference for the majority of participants, including massages and ‘calm rooms’ at work to remove staff from the fast pace of the office.
Know your staff
At the centre of all of these issues is a simple principle: know the issues affecting your staff. Thanking workers, developing good relationships, and addressing work volumes, are all intuitive steps towards a happier workforce, but more important than all of these is being aware of whether these are the issues that are affecting staff in the first place.
Maintaining dialogue with workers will work both ways: employees will know that their opinions and input are valued, and managers will gain a strong understanding of the most prevalent issues affecting their staff right now. Acting upon this knowledge will ensure that solutions are as tailored and specific as possible, making their employment all the more effective.