When you get the balance right, a certain level of workplace stress can help motivate employees and keep them focused. However, if this balance is off, it quickly leads to burnout and a negative impact on the daily functioning of employees.
Here is a quick guide on identifying and mitigating signs of mental distress in the workplace, and how to manage employee stress effectively.
Signs of negative stress levels in the workplace
When employees' stress levels become excessive, their productivity is affected. They may make mistakes and be unable to finish tasks on time. They may even end up taking frequent leave, which affects everyone, including the greater business as a whole.
To that end, it’s essential to recognise signs of burnout. These include:
- Exhaustion. This can also cause somatic symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches, or affect appetite or sleep.
- Isolation. Spending more time alone because they are feeling overwhelmed.
- Irritability. Becoming snappy and unable to cope with normal responsibilities, especially when things do not go as planned.
- Escape fantasies. Fantasising about running away or numbing emotional pain with drugs, alcohol or food.
- Frequent illness. Burnout can lower a person’s immune system and also lead to depression and anxiety.
The role of leaders in managing stress in the work environment
Companies need to make visible, long-term commitments to mental health in their workplaces.
Leaders are in the strongest position to positively influence the working environment, management practices and the experience of employees.
They need to model positive day-to-day behaviours and actions, share employee well-being as a goal and value within the workplace, and subsequently commit necessary human and financial resources to the cause.
Ways that employees can help themselves
Whilst stress may be unavoidable to a degree, employees can also take steps to manage their own stress, including:
- Being self-aware. Identifying personal early warning signs of not coping and continually reflecting on their schedule to reduce, eliminate or better manage items that no longer serve a positive purpose for them.
- Maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Spending time on non-work interests and prioritising self-care (such as exercise, socialising or watching their favourite show).
- Keeping a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet, regular exercise and enough sleep will help prevent a prolonged state of stress.
- Maintaining boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries by knowing their own limits and when to say ‘no’ to others. Also setting everyday boundaries such as not working past a certain time, or scheduling regular self-care activities.
- Seeking help. If an employee or someone they know is at risk of burnout, it’s important they seek appropriate help.
Implement workplace programs to minimise a decline in mental health
For many businesses, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a central part of their strategy for employee wellbeing. It will not only provide confidential counselling and support for employees, but it can also help organisations adopt a more proactive, preventative approach to workplace mental health overall.
It is also important for businesses to consider mental health in policies relating to workplace bullying, leave and flexible working arrangements, performance management, cultural awareness, and workplace health and safety (WH&S).
One of the ways that Assure supports employee wellbeing is through the delivery of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for clients all over Australia. We use an extensive network of experienced psychologists and specialists who our client’s employees can book to to see in person or via telehealth consultation, and some who are also available on call for trauma and critical incident support.
Along with the broader team at Assure, I provide counselling to employees who have requested professional support, as well as to those whose managers have reached out to me after noticing signs of excessive stress. I also consult with companies to support the implementation of wellbeing services and championing mental health in their workplace.
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