Tuesday January 5, 2010
Sally Brand, Business Development Manager discovers ways to manage stress for organisations and individuals.
Stress is a fact of life for many people in modern society. Research shows that levels of anxiety have risen in recent years and this trend looks set to continue. The Samaritans 2007 'Stressed Out' Survey shows that "49% of people are worried about the affect stress is having on their health, compared with 44% of people last year". Moving forward to 2009, which was undoubtedly a very difficult year for many people: 'Nearly half the UK population (48%) has worried about debt and money, according to a survey published by Samaritans and YouGov, with almost a quarter of people (23%) describing 2009 as a bad year or their worst year ever.'
The industry you work in also has a large influence on stress levels, with over 40% of caterers, IT professionals, retailers, and engineers feeling unsupported at work and over half unable to deal with stress effectively. (Other industries, such as health care, education, and finance fare better with over 50% claiming that they receive adequate support at work.)
Stress is a complex issue. Even defining stress is not straightforward. The dictionary defines stress as "mental, emotional or physical strain or tension". However, in reality, we all experience, and react to stress very differently. What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that's stressful to you may not be stressful for somebody else; they may even enjoy it. For example, public speaking might be one person's nightmare and highly enjoyable for another individual.
Stress in itself is not damaging, in fact a certain amount of it is necessary at times to enable us to meet challenges and goals. For instance, stress helps to keep you going when preparing for an exam or a presentation at work. However, it needs to be managed properly as if it goes beyond a certain point it can become damaging to our health (stress can cause, or exacerbate obesity, heart disease and digestive problems), our relationships (it can cause a breakdown of personal and professional relationships) and how we handle our daily lives in general (too much stress can cause irritability and affect our concentration levels and sleep patterns).
The causes of stress are vast, with some of the more common triggers being injury, death of a relative, divorce and pressures at work. Whilst stress caused by work might not be quite as extreme or intense as the death of a loved one or the end of a marriage, it is the second biggest occupational health problem in the UK (after back problems). According to the Samaritans: "Job related stress has a serious and unrecognised impact on the health of the nation and the economy, affecting concentration and efficiency. Thirteen million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2005 at a staggering cost of 3.7 billion to UK plc......Positive workplaces are a big factor in keeping everyone emotionally healthy."
Research highlights that a third to a half of the public think their employers do not take stress seriously enough (35% UK, 45% ROI) nor do workers think employees pay enough attention to the issue (38% UK, 41% ROI) (Samaritans Stressed Out: A study of public experience of stress at work, December 2007). Indeed many employees would rather take time off from work claiming that they're sick rather than admit that they need to take time off for stress related issues.
Indeed with stress costing the economy such vast amounts each year, this is an issue that employers cannot afford to ignore. Research by the Health and Safety Executive emphasises that managers' behaviour is empirically linked to their people's well being. 'Manager behaviours that involve individualised consideration and/or interpersonally fair treatment appear to be particularly effective in reducing strain'. As such it is important that organisations are educating their managers and people about stress management and developing them to be emotionally intelligent and able to recognise the signs.
There is not a one size fits all solution when it comes to stress management but little things can make a big difference to stress levels.
Here are some 'top tips' for both individuals and organisations:
Top tips for dealing with stress for organisations:
- Be prepared to listen- ensure information is shared with your people to reduce anxiety
- Use learning and development, to educate delegates and help them to change their behaviour or develop the skills required to effectively manage and support their people
- Ensure stress management strategies are incorporated into performance management to ensure that people are clear about what is expected of them from the start
- Be sure that workloads are suitable for individual team members (not everybody works at the same pace or has the same knowledge and experience); avoid unrealistic deadlines
- Provide opportunities for career development and ensure that good work is praised on an individual, team and perhaps even institutional level
- Managers can be expected to be readily available at all times which can affect their concentration and stress levels- consider allowing them to work from home from time to time or set aside 'quiet periods' where they can work undisturbed
Top tips for dealing with stress for individuals:
- Learn to recognise your particular response to stress and how to deal with it. For example, if you get stressed out by your morning commute, make sure you have your favourite book or CD with you to cheer you up and relax you
- Learn to say "no" to others and to yourself, be realistic about how much you can achieve and delegate where possible
- Think positive! If you see the downside of everything it will zap your energy and motivation
- Take regular breaks and try to get away from your desk at lunchtime; even if it's just for 10-15 minutes
- Incorporate exercise into your regime at least three times a week- it's great for releasing pent up aggression, sharpening the mind and increasing energy
- If things are getting too much a quick fix is to take three slow, deep breaths and roll your shoulders back whilst doing so- this will help to release tension immediately
For more top tips check out: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm
Stress can become a vicious circle and is all too often ignored by individuals and organisations; which is detrimental and can have long last effects. It is important that individuals and employers accept responsibility for the role they play in creating or maintaining stress and look at methods to deal with this. Simple things and improved communication really can make a big difference to this issue.
If stress is something affecting you or your team, speak to us about our beating stress learning bite.
Over to you. Does your organisation encourage a stress-free lifestyle where possible? Or do you have any stress-busting techniques you can share? We look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions.