Workplace Wellbeing | Mental health experts on how to help employees manage their stress

Mental health experts on how to help employees manage their stress

November 7-11 2022 marked International Stress Awareness Week, a major annual event focusing on stress management and campaigning against the stigma associated with stress and mental health issues.

Organised by International Stress Management Association (ISMA), the campaign was created in 2018 to raise awareness about stress prevention, with the highlight of the week being Stress Awareness Day.

Sadly, this year’s event appears to be more important than ever, particularly for those within the people function. Recent research from Gartner found that 2022 has been the worst year on record for stress and worry amongst employees, with 58% of employees reporting high levels of stress and 48% experiencing feelings of worry, according to the study.

Therefore, to mark the final day of this incredibly important awareness campaign, HR Grapevine has compiled expert advice on what HR leaders can do to help their employees manage their mental wellbeing.

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Nicola Hemmings, Head of Workplace Psychology, Koa Health issues the following workplace message: “Just observing someone else going through a stressful situation can cause our bodies to release the stress hormone cortisol. While stress, in short bursts, can increase the productivity of certain individual tasks, prolonged stress has a damaging effect on a team’s collective creativity and productivity, which in turn has a knock-on impact on company performance.

“There are several stress management techniques businesses can use at both an individual and team level to support productivity. For example, using the first few minutes of meetings to get up and stretch or listen to a mindfulness meditation exercise. Spending a few minutes to sit with and notice our thoughts doesn’t just help us relax, it also helps us hone observational skills which are key for creativity. We are naturally biased to think negatively which increases stress and reduces creativity. Help your team to re-focus on the positive. Encourage them to celebrate successes or publicly acknowledge and thank co-workers who have helped them.

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“During International Stress Awareness Week, I urge employers to provide comprehensive support for mental health, accessed at an individual level, supported at the team level and role modelled by leaders to help mitigate employee stress. A workforce with stronger mental wellbeing is more likely to have stronger morale, greater productivity, and reduced sick leave and staff churn. With the mental health impact of the rising cost of living likely to be felt for a long time, businesses cannot afford to wait. Offering solutions that address mental health for employees, which is supported, encouraged, and role modelled by leadership is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense”.

3 tips from a Clinical Psychologist to help your workforce handle stress

Dr Anna Mandeville, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and UK Clinical Director at Koa Health on how to help employees manage their stress.
"While some levels of stress can be considered a motivator to get things done, when stress is too intense or too frequent, it can become a health risk—both for individuals and the businesses that employ them,” said Dr Mandeville.

“In the workplace, stress and stress-related mental and physical health issues are linked to decreased productivity and engagement which can increase absenteeism, presenteeism and labour turnover. There are several stress management techniques team leaders can use to manage employees stress more effectively”.

Below are Dr Mandeville’s tips:

Encourage authenticity at work

Being yourself at work is important. As a leader, you’re expected to pave the way for others, but people won’t feel safe and behave more authentically overnight, these things take time. Taking a risk and being a bit more candid about your own emotions and struggles contribute a lot to building a culture where employees feel safe enough to reveal their authentic selves.

Create a culture of compassion

There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that working in supportive teams with clear goals dramatically lowers stress. Compassionate leadership and culture also increase staff engagement. The good news is compassion is a behaviour, and it can be learned. The four steps to compassion involve listening and being present, taking time to understand other people’s perspectives, empathising with others and helping by taking intelligent actions to remove obstacles and provide resources as needed.

Build up psychological skills

Even in organisations committed to building compassionate cultures, companies will need to invest further to grow a future-proof workforce with solid psychological coping skills. Options like mental health training (for line managers and employees) and comprehensive, science-based apps can be used to mitigate employee stress.
Workplace pressure is unavoidable, and some pressure is necessary to help us stay responsive and agile. During International Stress Awareness Week, I urge employers to take the time to build a compassionate work environment - it’s worth the investment. A workforce with stronger mental wellbeing is more likely to have stronger morale, improved employee loyalty and greater productivity".

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