From tight deadlines and workload pressures to a lack of managerial support; undue demands and pressures in the workplace can have a dramatic impact on people’s health and wellbeing, leading to the onset of stress and anxiety. Latest figures from HSE suggest that workers in public service industries are the most likely to suffer work-related stress, though the condition is now prevalent across all sectors.
April is Stress Awareness Month, a chance for healthcare professionals and experts to raise public awareness for the ongoing problem of stress. And so, to show our support for this important event, here we hear from workplace performance and training expert, Jan Sargent, about some of the ways we can all help to minimise the impact of stress on individuals, before looking at 8 simple ways to help manage stress in the workplace.
Stress is a physical condition which can lead to a harmful reaction in people of all ages, and at all stages of their career. Due to its very nature, stress is difficult to manage and monitor, meaning that thousands of sufferers find themselves living with the condition day after day, without getting the help they need.
From both an individual and company-wide perspective, stress can be detrimental to a person’s work performance and attendance. That’s why it’s crucial that stress is properly dealt with in the workplace, ensuring the condition doesn’t hamper a person’s ability to attend work and perform at their best.
Jan Sargent is an expert performance, mentoring and training coach, helping businesses, big and small, get the best from their people. Together with Julie Hutchison, Jan co-directs Transforming Performance, a specialist development and performance coaching consultancy. Here, Jan provides background on how stress affects people at work, and offers tips on how to help stress sufferers overcome the condition.
"‘I’m stressed’. Individuals react differently to things; we can’t assume that what ‘stresses me out, stresses you out’. One size doesn’t fit all. The immediate physical response to ‘stress’ is a hard-wired survival mechanism. It developed when we had to run away from predators. In that situation, your body goes into survival mode; blood rushes to your brain preparing you to either fight or run away. Your brain turns to cotton wool as blood floods it. In milliseconds, your IQ reduces by up to 20 points. You now cannot concentrate on anything other than survival. You’re in ‘survival mode’, not ‘competency mode’.
"This severe stress response translates into the modern world. Certain work or personal events and behaviours cause individuals to go into survival mode. They can no longer think straight, their heart comes under huge pressure to pump blood to their brain, their blood becomes sticky. Not healthy when there’s nothing to flee from."
"In the immediate instance, we can help that person out of ‘survival mode’ and return to ‘competency mode’ so they can think straight. Ask them to sit down and be still; to close their eyes; take in a very deep breath and count to seven, then deeply breathe out and count to 11. Repeat at least three times. This helps that person become calmer and allow their blood to flow away from their brain and clear the befuddled state. You now have an opportunity for a positive impact upon them.
"A lower amount of pressure can energise us to perform at a higher level. As employers, we should be mindful (and be aware of legal requirements) of not causing acute or chronic levels of distress on individuals. For optimum performance from our people, we should provide a good physical working environment so people can thrive physically; work which is interesting and positively stretching and over which an individual has a degree of autonomy; make targets stretching but reasonable and help people achieve them; treat people as individuals, with courtesy and respect; encourage participation and share the rewards of success with them. People will almost always respond in a positive way to positive treatment."
Given the damaging impact stress can have on individuals, as well as the wider business, it’s important that senior members of staff within an organisation do what they can to minimise workplace stress. Here, we provide practical steps your business can use to manage and reduce stress across your business.
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