Manager and employee

A manager's role in managing stress

Stress is an important consideration for every employer in 2020. According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) a staggering 600,000 workers in the last 12 months have reported suffering stress, anxiety or depression, caused or made worse by work.

Everyone feels a certain amount of stress in their lives caused by increased demands from a variety of factors, such as work, financial pressures or relationships with others. Stress can be caused by anything that the individual feels poses a real or perceived threat to their well-being. A small amount of stress is often manageable, however it's when this escalates that it can become harmful.

As we recognise Stress Awareness Month this April, we thought it the perfect time to discuss the role of management in the workplace in identifying, eliminating and dealing with their teams' stress levels.

Your duty as a manager

It's probably worth starting by pointing out that as a manager of people, you're not expected, or indeed qualified, to diagnose and treat stress. But, as a workplace leader, you do have a duty of care towards your staff and have a legal obligation to identify and reduce work-related stress and anxiety. 

The kinds of situations that can cause an employee to feel pressure at work include limited development prospects, bad management (or a lack of management), unrealistic deadlines and workloads, a shortage or resources and/or equipment and poor relationships with peers.

It could even be that your employee is stressed because of non-work related problems, but if they're noticeably struggling at work, again, you have a duty of care to ensure there's nothing that could be improved in the working environment to help.

Great management traits

A large part of successfully managing your teams' stress levels begins with you. A great management style means your employees will see you as approachable, empathetic and as someone who can build excellent rapport. A good manager will also have the ability to create a healthy and productive working environment, where people feel supported, valued and rewarded.

There are endless management courses available if you're interested in strengthening any of these core skills, but one of the most important qualities is simply knowing your employees, talking to them on a regular basis so that you know how they cope with pressure and when they are starting to struggle.

Know the signs

Stress can be displayed in many different ways. It's most commonly expressed emotionally through tears, irritability or anger. But also look out for less obvious psychological signs - poor concentration, frequent mistakes, or just someone being unusually quiet can often be related to their wellbeing.

Stress can have physical effects on an individual too, so be aware of frequent absences or problems such as headaches, stomach upsets or a loss of appetite.

And once you're aware of your team member's stress levels, let them know. Good relationships with your workers, plus regular one-to-one catch-ups will provide the ideal opportunity for problems to be aired. 

Tips for reducing stress in your workplace

Whether you're plan, site or office-based, the principles behind managing and reducing stress for your employees remain the same. Here are just a few of our top tips:

1. Understand your workforce.

No matter where your staff are based, it's important to communicate with them on a regular basis. Frequent one-to-ones are vital, along with informal conversations, feedback from colleagues and formal staff satisfaction surveys.

Once you fully understand any issues your workforce has you can begin to improve things and reduce risk factors.

2. Consider your working environment, equipment and resources.

Often workers can become unhappy simply because of inadequate materials, software, equipment or resources. Not having the right tools can cause a reduction in both productivity and motivation.

Keep an active eye on workloads and how people are coping. And if they're not as productive as you'd like, can you provide them with better resources that could help? Empower your people by providing as pleasant a working environment as possible and regularly assess whether improvements could and should be made.

3. Ensure progression routes.

One of the leading causes of stress, according to the HSE, is a lack of developmental opportunities. As a manager, you're in control of improving and investing in your people and it's important that clear progression paths are laid out, communicated and regularly reviewed.

4. Have an open door.

Make sure your employees feel supported and listened to. Operate an 'open door' policy and let them know that they can approach you with any issues they may have. Review and refine your listening skills so you're the first to know should problems arise.

Check out HSE's Talking Toolkit - a fantastic resource for managers in learning how to talk with employees about stress.

5. Consider flexible working options.

Organisations across all industries are now increasingly offering flexible or remote working options. Engineers are included amongst those workers who feel they could sometimes benefit from flexi-time or working from home, and where those options are viable, it's worth considering them for your people.

In today's fast-paced world, stresses and strains can often be caused by employees feeling they lack work/life balance. If you can help your staff to feel like they're back in control of their lives, it could seriously increase wellbeing.

6. Implement recognition initiatives.

Everyone likes to feel valued and feeling undervalued can have a negative effect on your employees' mental health. Whilst bonus schemes and attractive benefits packages will always help with employee motivation, your initiatives don't necessarily need to break your budget. Be creative! Offer frequent and low-cost rewards and competitions within your teams - prizes could include things like a free lunch, a bottle of wine or an early Friday finish.

And don't underestimate the power of a simple 'thank you', Sometimes it's all that's needed to boost a worker's morale and reduce stress levels.

7. Encourage health and well-being.

As the leader of your people, it's in your interests, and those of your business, to ensure the well-being of your employees. Check whether people are taking a lunch hour and regular breaks. Often stress can be reduced simply by some 'time out' and a breather away from their tasks.

Also encourage mindfulness, relaxation techniques and exercise. Organise group walks at lunchtimes or offer free fruit to your staff - a healthy body often leads to a healthy mind.

Employees across the globe are increasingly taking steps to better manage work-related stress. Remember, you're not a medical expert but you do have an obligation to your organisation and team to be the best manager you can be. That involves having the ability to identify, manage and reduce stressful situations that can arise within your workplace.

The most important advice to give to a stressed, depressed or anxious employee is to seek professional medical help. Encourage them to talk to a GP or mental health specialist, whilst doing all you can to make your working environment as attractive and rewarding as possible. 

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