Service: Human resources 

Topic: Mental wellbeing 

Battling burnout: How to deal with rising stress levels in your team

By Sabah Rafiq

08 Apr 2022

For many, working from home has ushered in a new wave of flexibility into their working life.

Therefore, it may seem surprising that statistically, the Covid-19 pandemic brought about a seismic shift in the number of employee’s reportedly suffering from extreme stress or ‘burnout’. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published findings that show that there has been a 38% increase in the reported numbers of work-related stress, depression or anxiety cases between 2019 and 2021 calculating 822,000 reported cases.

It is important to remember that experiencing some level of stress at work isn’t always wholly negative, and indeed most of us will have experienced stress at work at some point in our careers. Some employees even report that a moderate level of stress can at times be motivational. 

How then, do companies, ensure that stress doesn’t shift from being a stimulus to being a concern? As part of Stress Awareness Month, we investigate how employers can aid in reducing workplace stress, and create a happy, healthy working culture.

Causes

The World Health Organisation views extreme stress in the form of ‘burnout’ as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ that is characterised as ‘resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. The roots of this kind of stress are multiple. 

One key cause of stress that experts agree on, is when employees feel that they aren’t equipped to deal with everyday demands, or that they don’t fully understand what is required of them in their role. This is where the effects of stress can consequently impact performance at work and even lead to long periods of absence. 

Furthermore, the increase in the incidences of stress since the pandemic cannot be ignored as insignificant. Hybrid working has seen work-life boundaries blur and conflict between workloads and personal priorities increase exaggerated. On top of this, both employers and employees have reported that working remotely had led to feelings of isolation. Reports of a phenomena known as ‘Zoom fatigue’ contributed to this feeling, with many feeling they aren’t having any real connection with colleagues on a daily basis. In this environment, feelings of stress can both be exaggerated, and are more likely to go unreported.

Consequences for business 

In the worst-case scenario, stress symptoms such as burnout can lead to long-term health issues for employees. Additionally, from an employer's perspective, workplace stress that is not properly managed has a significant impact on productivity. Demonstrably, stress can inhibit creativity, making people less likely to take risks or push themselves to achieve more. Moreover, stressed employees can become unintentionally short-tempered and withdrawn, meaning that the culture in a workplace can end up becoming bogged down by increasing stress levels. Aon’s Benefits & Trends Survey 2022 demonstrates the extent of the impact of stress on workplace productivity and culture, publishing that 96% of employers reported stress as more of a concern than any other health-related issue.

It is clear, then, that stress can be a long-term cause of disruption to employee well-being, as well as being a significant problem for productivity. Ultimately, the onus is on the employer to ensure that workplace stress doesn’t reach concerning levels and put mechanisms in place to promote an open and healthy working culture. 

Prevention

The figures of increasing stress levels are staggering, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t proven ways to combat it. Stress prevention comes down to the core of a business, right to its culture. From the outset, making it clear that employees have a place to go for support, and encouraging them to reach out if they need, is the best way to set up your employees, and business for success. One way to get this open culture moving could be to appoint a ‘well-being champion’; a point of contact in the office to address well-being related concerns. Nurturing this culture is an essential first step to tackling workplace stress that may not initially be evident as physical symptoms of stress. 

Additionally, employers should align workload demands with workers’ own skills and knowledge. Equipping employees with planning, training and, of course, support, can reduce the pressure employees feel when faced with an unfamiliar task, and thus reduce stress levels.

In terms of employees themselves, in such unprecedented and transitional times in the shadow of the pandemic, prioritising a healthy work-life balance, taking regular breaks and ensuring plenty of time away from your desk, by going on walks, for example, are a helpful start to dealing with stress. Sometimes as employees, we feel that communicating our stress to our fellow peers would be considered a weakness and are reluctant to express ourselves. However, if you feel your stress is becoming an obstacle to your productivity, or even worse, to your general well-being, you should reach out to your employer, manager or doctor to seek further advice on what to do next.  

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