We humans are tremendous worriers aren’t we? We worry when things are going well about what might go wrong in the future, we worry when things are actually going wrong. If we’re not worrying about something we worry about it (I know – just a tad perverse but people do it all the time!). How many times have you lain awake at night worrying about work? If you’re a business owner, this probably happens frequently but for most employees workplace the type of worries that go with responsibility for putting food on others’ tables shouldn’t be such a burden.
There are many factors that affect the productivity of your workers, but it doesn’t all stem from the workplace. I’m as guilty as the next of lying awake at night – but usually I’m making lists because there are so many things to think about. I don’t worry because I don’t have time to. I start at my end goal and work back to determine what has to be done to try to avoid problems. If all else fails and I’ve done everything I can, I fall back on the still relevant Victorian saying “what can’t be cured must be endured”.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we moved a week ago today. Two days into the Clare Stables era, poor Susie was twitchy and unhappy because there’s a delay in getting our full broadband and telecoms facility. As I write, the only line we have comes in via a wall into one of our loos. So if we want to use our only functioning phone, we have to dash to the loo. There is a funny side to this, though admittedly it does pall quite quickly. We also have a temporary mobile broadband device which gives us access to our emails, but it’s slow and we can’t access our shared drive. Anticipating there may be problems, we left our IT still set up at our old office and we can work remotely, so while it’s a bit Heath Robertson, it’s an acceptable compromise in the short term. Luckily the broadband will be sorted next week and we will be able to sort out a further short term arrangement for the phone to migrate from the loo to the desk. What we need to take from a situation like this is there’s no point in wasting energy fretting about things we can’t change. That way lies madness. No-one who knows me would ever say I’m the relaxed type, but oddly, I don’t really worry.
Of course, fostering an atmosphere where your workers want to come into work is undoubtedly important, but so is ensuring that your employees can go home, relax and switch-off. It’s important that everybody comes into work feeling as fresh as possible so that they can be as productive as possible.
A recent survey by mental health charity Mind has found that this is not always the case, and life at work is now rated as being more stressful than debt or health problems in the UK. Excessive workloads (or perceived excessive workloads),a lack of support from line managers and unrealistic targets are all to blame.
One-third of people rated their work life as very or quite stressful, and a quarter admitted they had considered resigning due to work pressure, with 9% admitting to having to leave a previous job due to work stress. The figures really are quite sobering, especially when it can be hard to know how to reduce the stress of somebody’s job when certain elements of it are a requirement of the role. That said, if someone is complaining about stress and anxiety it’s always best to do a thorough fact find first. Sometimes the perception of stressful environment is simply not borne out by the facts, even the belief of stress is genuinely held.
A colleague of mine (far softer and much more politically correct than I am),was doing some work with a failing local authority. The firs group she worked with told her how hard they worked, what long hours, how stressful it all was. She said they clearly believed it. But the facts were, they did an average of 38 hours a week, in desk jobs, not dealing with members of the public and doing not hugely complex admin and clerical work. She was really quite cross with their unrealistic view. They had talked themselves into a stressed state when there really was no evidence of anything other than ordinary day-to-day life going on. Somehow it puts one in mind of Denis Healey’s apt but cruel remark about Geoffrey Howe when he said an attack from Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep”.
I don’t want to be too frivolous about this. The experience of stress, anxiety and depression is unpleasant and can be debilitating. Different people respond to different stimuli differently. The long and the short is, employees who go off sick with workplace stress can be hard to manage and stress is capable of being a disability, even though it’s not on the World Health Organisation’s list of recognised illnesses. It can be difficult to know how severe stress is, whether it could be linked to depression, how long they’re likely to be off work for… the list goes on and on. As an employer, you’re under a duty to provide a safe system of work. It’s therefore wise to avoid this happening where possible.
- Establish open lines of communication. Make yourself approachable so that staff feel able to talk to you about problems they might be experiencing at work.
- Be honest with yourself, setting a good example and listening and respecting the opinions of other.
- Avoid encouraging employees to work excessively long hours. If urgent or important jobs are looming, then make your employees aware of them in advance so that the relevant preparation can be done.
- Make sure that workplace distractions are limited so that your employees can get on with their work.
- Provide some scope for varying working conditions and flexibility and allowing employees to choose how their work is done.
Stress isn’t nice for anybody, and having a stressed employee could impact negatively on the team, and on you. Where an organisation has effective HR policies, practices and procedures, unacceptable levels of stress are much less likely to occur or cause harm. Preventing stress is as important as managing it, so give us a call if you would like our help.
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