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Managers: How to Reduce Workplace Stress for your Employees

November 10, 2022 - Izaskun Olarreaga

Work can be a stressful place for everyone at times. And after the last few years of turmoil – from the Covid pandemic to the escalating cost of living crisis – most of us are feeling the pressure a little more than usual.

For many workers, that stress has escalated to the point of burnout – something that is costing businesses more than £26 billion every year in terms of workplace absenteeism. And with 57% of employees reporting that they feel worn out by their jobs, it’s a critical time to take action.

The good news is that, as a manager or employer, there are plenty of things that you can do to make life easier for your employees. And investing in employee wellbeing makes absolute sense. Research shows that supported employees are far more likely to perform highly, to be motivated and engaged and far less likely to go off work sick.

So if you’re serious about building a loyal, high-performing and committed workforce, and developing a powerful employer brand that attracts the best talent in the industry, it’s the right time to focus on employee wellbeing.

Ideas for reducing workplace stress

Every business has different needs, budgets and set-ups – but these ideas are all easily workable and can help to boost employee morale quickly and easily:

Know the psychology

Employees need to feel safe and supported at work to be their best. Businesses can use this knowledge to create the right workspaces that support these feelings of psychological well-being. The cornerstone requirements are:

  1. To give everyone a clear set of goals and objectives (with regular catch-up and progress meetings, training, support mechanisms and performance reviews.)
  2. To ensure everyone feels that their voices can be heard – and to show that you, as a business, want to hear your employees’ thoughts, opinions and ideas. This can be stimulated through a culture of frequent open and honest communication.
  3. To develop a calm and unthreatening working environment which still challenges and encourages high performance, innovation and risk-taking. For example, make it clear that it’s OK to fail. Celebrate team members who try new things and think outside the box. Ask everyone for feedback and have regular celebrations and activities that foster a sense of unity, fun and inclusion.

Create creative and lively working spaces

Offices and working spaces can sometimes be a little bland, but it doesn’t cost much to decorate the walls with inspiring artwork, pictures or designs that your people will enjoy seeing. Why not ask your employees to get involved and submit design ideas or original artwork?

Alternatively, you could commission a graphic designer to produce artwork with motivational quotes. One good one is:

“Stress is the trash of modern life-we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” – Danzae Pace.

This would work great outside your breakout space!

Speaking of which, a breakout or timeout space is an excellent investment for your employees. It could be a dedicated room, a quiet corner or even a flexible space that changes with the needs of your business.

Choose a spot with natural light and a view if you can – green space views in particular have a calming effect on the brain and nervous system. Add drinks facilities, some snacks and comfortable chairs so people can have a break when they need them.

Encourage breaks and downtime

The old-fashioned culture of presenteeism and overtime is over. When people overwork they simply experience burnout and become ill.

Research also shows that ‘less is more’ when it comes to focus, and that people can only be productive for up to 120 minutes at a time before they need a break.

Make use of this knowledge and encourage regular and beneficial breaks. Encourage people to leave their desks and get outdoors for a short walk. Even better, encourage outdoor walking meetings. Invite people to relax in breakout areas and enjoy a drink.

Create a culture where people talk and see each other physically and in person, rather than always being on screens.

Develop your managers

Managers also have a vital role to play in stress reduction. Train your managers so that they learn good people management skills. Set boundaries so that managers are not contacting employees outside of their working hours – nothing is more stressful than receiving demanding emails during free time.

Consider the ‘shadow of the leader’ effect by ensuring that your business directors are modelling the behaviours and working practices that they want to see across the organisation – respect, engagement, trust, good listening, encouragement, support and healthy open communication.

Work on values, purpose and culture

A low-stress working environment is usually one with a clear sense of values, purpose and drive. The kinds of stress that are acceptable are those that people feel temporarily when trying to achieve a stretch goal – and these are ideal for performance!

When your business has clear values, a strong purpose and a positive, creative, purposeful and diverse working culture, it will be a place where everyone feels comfortable working and performing, regardless of their personality type and preference.

One practical note on working styles – when thinking about your culture, remember that some people need quiet and space to focus and to work at their best – so consider creating quiet zones that enable this and encourage louder phone calls into meeting spaces or designated zones.

Look at your employee benefits

Employee benefits are another powerful driver of well-being. Offer flexible working, home working and health support through phone counselling services and employee wellbeing packages.

Bring plants into the office to boost oxygen levels and reduce toxins, host employee volunteering days and crucially – ask your employees what they would love to see at work. That might be flexible benefits, free fruit on a Friday or the chance to set their own working hours to suit their chronotype.

The more creative, flexible and innovative you can be, the more likely you are to create a low-stress and high-performance culture that attracts and retains talent – and which builds sustainable competitive advantage over time.