April is national “Stress Awareness Month” and as we take a look at the issue of stress in the workplace, we’re pleased to offer some suggestions for making things better for you and your colleagues.
Stress is dubbed “the health epidemic of the 21st-century” according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). “Health is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity but a positive state of complete physical, mental and social well-being (WHO, 1986), a healthy working environment is one in which there is not only absence of harmful conditions but an abundance of health promoting ones”.
Clinical research shows that stress is an underlying factor in at least 70% of all visits to GPs. And stress can lead to many chronic diseases including increased rates of heart attack, hypertension, obesity, addiction, anxiety and depression.
So why does stress make us sick? Under conditions of prolonged periods of stress the body’s nervous system is put under pressure and goes into fight or flight mode, this means the sympathetic system is highly engaged and the parasympathetic system is suppressed disrupting our natural balance, increasing levels of hormones including; glucocorticoids and prolactin, cortisol levels increase and insulin levels can decrease. This imbalance creates the health issues we have mentioned above.
What Causes Stress In the Workplace?
Stress can occur in a range of circumstances; having no control over workload and not receiving enough support, for example.
Stress in response to demands which are not matched by abilities or knowledge is an issue. In this case managers need to be open to listening to colleagues, seeking to understand the situation and provide the support and training needed.
Job content including monotony, under-stimulation, carrying out seemingly meaningless tasks. Workload and pace including having too much or too little to do, or constant time pressure, can all cause stress.
Lack of development opportunities, job insecurity, bullying and harassment, poor leadership and communication are all other examples of stress inducing situations in the workplace.
Making Changes For The Better
A healthy lifestyle including exercise and finding healthy ways to unwind such as, spending time outdoors in nature, practising yoga and meditation are all coping strategies to make people feel more in control. Studies have shown that spending time in nature restores mental energy.
Allowing for flexibility of working schedules where practicably possible demonstrates trust and allows employees to manage their own time better, this has been proven to be good for morale.
Environmental factors and Biophilic Elements can make a big impact too. A worker’s surroundings can have a significant effect on their productivity and overall job satisfaction both of which factor into stress levels. Organisations which invest in attractive offices, with bright or calming colour schemes, plants and artwork, provide happier places to work. The addition of biophilic elements, such as plants, natural materials and biomorphic design, provide a more calming and productive experience at work (read more about Biophilia, and why bringing nature to work can improve health & wellbeing).
“Mental fatigue” that feeling of brain fog, inability to concentrate or having racing thoughts can be greatly alleviated by exposure to restorative environments, which research has found, generally means the great outdoors. One study found that people’s mental energy bounced back even when they just looked at pictures of nature. (Pictures of city scenes had no such effect).
Providing space where workers can get away from their desk for a break even for a short time, can help boost productivity for the rest of the workday.
Communication is also a critical issue for the handling of stress and stress related absence. Encouraging an open and transparent dialogue, offering help and support, and communicating clearly about work-related issues without fear of reprisals or stigma, creates a great culture within a company.
See other Tips to Boost Workplace Wellness