Defining and managing stress at work: Essential advice for all HR professionals

As the start of November marks both Stress Awareness Day and Stress Awareness Week, it's a key topic both now and for your future planning as an HR professional.
HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Defining and managing stress at work: Essential advice for all HR professionals

In the competitive landscape of modern workplaces, the persistent issue of stress has become a crucial factor affecting employee well-being and productivity. As professionals, the demanding nature of our roles often subjects us to high-pressure environments, leading to detrimental consequences for both mental and physical health.

As the start of November marks both Stress Awareness Day and Stress Awareness Week, it's a key topic both now and for your future planning as an HR professional.

The first step is to define stress - and stress at work. Carole Spiers is the founder of Stress Awareness Day, and Chair of the International Stress Management Association. She says: “Stress is excessive pressure. Pressure is what we can manage and cope with, it motivates us. We have too much pressure, it’s going into the stress zone.”

So if you think stress brings about positive results, think again. “People think a bit of stress is good – but it’s not,” Spiers adds as a warning. “Stress can show itself through things like absenteeism, people not getting on with each other, and even workplace bullying.”

It can be about the small elements of work that build up, too, rather than one big stress element. That is to say, it’s not just the ‘huge project’ or ‘new promotion’ that leads to stress, but the culmination of those ‘little things’ that then add up.

Causes can range from work overload and too many emails to job ambiguity, says Spiers. “It could be that you are working from home and your boss is not checking in with you to see how you are.”

Stress is excessive pressure. Pressure is what we can manage and cope with, it motivates us. We have too much pressure, it’s going into the stress zone

Carole Spiers, Founder of Stress Awareness Day

How stress manifests in behaviour at work

Jodie Cariss, Founder and CEO of Self Space, a contemporary mental health service that works with the UK’s top organisations on workplace mental health solutions adds that “Stress is a natural human reaction which is key for development and survival. It gives us a small burst of energy which helps us make a decision about what to do next, but there are two types of stress. Good stress can be beneficial, increasing productivity and motivation. But bad stress can leave you feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. It’s totally normal to feel stressed at work from time to time and, in small doses, it can even motivate us. It can help increase productivity, reduce procrastination and boost our memory. But too much of anything can be a bad thing, and stress is certainly no exception.”

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