Five things you can do to make work less stressful for your staff – and yourself

Workplace stress

Stress. It’s normal. Every one will feel it at some point, and individuals have their own stress triggers.

This is why it’s important to not have a blanket approach to mental health in your organisation. It’s important to recognise that a stress reliever that works for one person is not necessarily the solution for everyone in your organisation.

At the same time, workplaces have a duty of care to ensure they offer their staff a physically and mentally safe and healthy space in which to work in. In addition employees are also responsible for caring for their own health and wellbeing, and that of their colleagues.

According to Safe Work Australia (SWA), 91 per cent of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition are due to work-related stress or mental stress, with 31 per cent of people citing work pressure as the common cause of their stress.

Moreover, SWA says that workers who:

  • have high levels of interaction with other people;
  • are providing a public service; or
  • often doing their job in difficult and challenging circumstances

are those who are most vulnerable to stress-related claims.

Those three points describe most roles in the NFP sector!

So what could you be doing to ensure that there’s a little less stress in the day for your staff – and for yourself?

1. Check in

For your organisation or team

Creating a forum in which your staff can deliver feedback in a safe environment is essential to overall wellbeing. This means regularly having one-on-ones where staff can talk about workflow challenges; prioritisation and potential conflicts.

While autonomy is great, leaving your staff without a means of communication could leave them feeling unnecessarily rudderless.

For yourself

There is a reason R U OK Day exists – there is power in conversation. If you notice one of your colleagues is not themselves, check in and provide them with an opportunity to have an open and frank discussion in a quiet forum.

Similarly, if you are feeling stressed, identify a person you can confide in. Sometimes just having a conversation can help you manage your stress.

2. Take a break

For your organisation or team

It’s not often easy to force your employees to take a break without looking like something of a micro-manager. However, research suggests that taking a lunch break can improve productivity, and overall wellbeing.

The best way to get staff to take a break is to 1) Lead by example; and 2) Create a work environment where taking a break is encouraged. This could mean ensuring there are no meetings scheduled around lunch times, offering exercise classes or creating spaces that are lunch-break friendly.

For yourself

Getting your body moving is an easy way to start reducing your stress levels. Step outside and get some sunshine and you’ll find your energy levels, sleep and mood are improving.

Taking a break can also boost your productivity. While you might feel too busy to take a break, studies suggest that your output will actually improve after a 30-minute break, compared with staying at your desk.

3. Exercise

For your organisation or team

According to The Black Dog Institute, one hour of exercise a week can prevent depression, and that’s at any intensity.

This means that a one-hour walk could have huge benefits to your employees, once again highlighting the importance of taking a break (see above).

Other ways to encourage exercise include: turn a meeting into a walking meeting; look at investing in standing desks; offer employee exercise classes and/or have change room facilities to encourage staff to exercise in their lunch break.

For yourself

More than one third of Australians spend less than 1.5 hours per week being physically active. But we know just one hour of exercise is capable of preventing some – not all – cases of depressions.

Using your lunch break to go for a walk is a really easy way to get some exercise. Other options include walking/riding to work; signing up for a lunchtime class; or starting a workplace exercise club.

Be aware of where your mental hurdles are when it comes to exercise and work around them. If you know you don’t like to be active after work, don’t commit to after-work classes you’ll fail to turn up for. Find a system that works for you.

4. Practice mindfulness

For your organisation or team

While mindfulness might feel like a bit of a buzz term, it does actually work to relieve stress. In simple terms, it is about paying attention to what is going on in and outside you.

Taking time out for mindfulness is something that should be encouraged. It only takes a minute, and can have huge benefits for your employees.

You can find a factsheet with some helpful mindfulness techniques here.

For yourself

One minute – that’s all it takes to complete a mindfulness technique and release some of your stress. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by emotions, take a minute out of your day to focus on your breathing. It sounds simple, but this act can have enormous benefits to your overall mental health and wellbeing.

5. Improve your time management skills

For your organisation or team

Sometimes stress is all down to feeling like you don’t have enough time. As an employer, it’s important that your organisation’s processes are streamlined to allow your staff to do their jobs well. Identify any bottlenecks – and that includes any you might be causing yourself – and smooth out processes as much as you can. Your employees will thank you for it, and you mind ease some of your own mental load too.

For yourself

With so much focus on mindfulness and physical health, time management can get forgotten as a stress relief tactic. However, sometimes stress is caused simply from feeling out of control.

There are many, many time management tactics out there.

Three easy things you could try today are:

  1. end each work day by planning your top three goals for the next day so you don’t need to mull over work priorities after your work day has ended;
  2. schedule blocks of time for email checking (rather than reacting to every ping of your computer); and
  3. Keep lists to free up your brain for other things.

Recognise the signs

As discussed earlier, not everyone gets stressed in the same way. The Australian Psychological Society outlines some of the signs, including:

  • New physical ailments or an exacerbation of existing issues, such as headaches, muscle aches, hearth palpitations, fatigue, stomach upsets, headaches
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Difficulty in concentration or memory recall
  • Frequent sick leave
  • Lower productivity
  • Difficulty making decisions and/or procrastination
  • Change in eating patterns
  • Dip in performance
  • An increase in fatigue
  • Increase use of alcohol, drugs or medication
  • Withdrawal from social functions
  • Complaining about work

We are all responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of our workplace and colleagues. If you want to talk to someone about stress or anxiety, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 224 636.

Do you have some personal tricks for dealing with stress in your team, organisation or your own work? Please share them in the comments section below.

Image: flickr/ukodi

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