Is Stress Your Enemy or Friend?
Earlier this month I’ve been privileged to represent SA Law at their Stress in The Workplace educational talks to HR professionals. I learned many interesting upcoming changes in employment law from the SA Law team, including some fascinating case studies in the area. As an expert on stress I was asked to talk about what it is, how it affects the workplace, and what you can do about it.
What is stress to you?
Depending on how you view stress, it is either the motivating force for you to achieve your goals or the cause of health and relationship issues. It can often be both. In its pure form it is your body’s fight or flight mechanism, designed to keep you alive.
From the days where dinosaurs could turn up at your family barbecue, it optimises your body to either run or fight for your life. This is good when you are in physical danger, this is not so good when you have slow internet connection, an abrasive work colleage, or a stroppy teenager at home who is having a bad day.
Stress fires you up, often at the expense of your diplomacy and reason filters. This is the zone when you can say or do things that may come back to haunt you down the line. It is a primal instinct which can temporarily detach you from your better reasoning ability. Fortunately, it is possible to learn how to manage stress to your advantage. There are many reasons why this is a good idea.
What does stress at work cost UK businesses?
According to a monster.com survey of 7000 professionals, 42% had voluntarily left a job due to stressful working conditions. In a survey by Forbes of 900 workers found that employee relations with their boss was the most common cause of workplace stress. This was closely followed by work load, work- life balance and relationships with co-workers. 61% of these say that workplace issues had affected their physical health with insomnia, depression and family issues cited as the main upshots of this.
• The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/2016 was 488,000
• Of these, 224,000 were new cases
• Working days lost as a direct result: 11.7 Million
• 45% of all sick days
• Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education; health and social care; and public administration and defence
Source: The Health and Safety Executive
Why does this happen?
When you have a stressful time at work or home it often carries to the other arena. I was provided with my own case study the evening before my presentation last week. It was my mum’s birthday evening and our family was having a games night. It was not enough for my eldest nephew not to join in, he decided to go upstairs to his playstation and slam doors and roar expletives because he was beaten on fifa 17.
When I asked what was wrong I was also given a torrent of expletives letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that my presence and question were not appreciated. Despite feeling an instant surge of fury at a sudden level of disrespect that he had never displayed before, I stayed relatively calm on the outside. Years of working on the front line of hospitals had taught me that skill, but this was personal.
After a brief exchange I swiftly realised that talk would get me nowhere in this situation. I recognised that I was feeling intense stress and needed to walk away. I simply unplugged the tv and console which led to the outburst, and walked downstairs with the cables. He is 14, going through a hormonal time that does not get explained to teenagers, and now he is grounded for 2 weeks so that he gets plenty of time to consider his actions.
There are good and bad ways to deal with stress
Trying to get your point across when two people are stressed will rarely lead to a completely positive outcome. Despite not being able to sleep until 3am, when I was up at 6am to get ready for my talk that morning, I spent the next weekend with two angelic nephews, who will think twice about being unreasonable in the future now they have had time to assimilate the results of their actions. I also had a great case study to use for my talk that day. Indeed, one of the attendees asked whether I had been in their house last night!
Stress at home affects stress at work
I had meant to send this post last Wednesday when I was working in London. Unfortunately, internet connectivity issues prevented me, and started to get me a little stressed. However, the news of what happened in Westminster, not far from where I was working, soon put my frustrations into perspective. We often stress about things that are not really that important in the bigger picture of our lives.
If one of your employees is in an unhappy, challenging, or even abusive relationship at home, this will generally affect their performance and dynamic on the rest of their team at work. Most people can read between the lines of the masks that are generally needed to separate work and home issues.
During my nursing days I witnessed many outcomes of stress at work. One work colleague went through a very messy and painful divorce which let to him talking about it to anyone he worked with. I avoided working shifts with him when I could as the negativity became too much. This transferred to all of the staff, increasing sickness during this period.
Presenteeism can be just as harmful to your team at work when people are going through a personal crisis at home. Death of family, financial struggles and family fallouts are big factors here. If roles involve long hours, out of hours communications, pressurised deadlines, threats of redundancy and risky working conditions, it can create a mix that has employees in a permanent state of fight or flight. Left unmanaged this will exacerbate more debilitating conditions such as strokes or heart attacks. Long working hours alone has been shown to lead to a 33% higher chance of a stroke. And what is the cost of that to your business and employee?
What I offer to help.
Often stress is caused by poor communication within organisations, and a lack of awareness of the damage this can do. Simply installing simple mechanisms to empower your team to communicate their frustrations better whilst showing that you care about them, is a game changing intervention. My wellbeing at work, business confidence, and people skills programmes can help you to keep your staff happier and more productive.
If wellbeing in your workplace is of interest to you, I am happy to have a chat with you about how I can help you.