How to alleviate workplace stress: 5 top tips from HR leaders

John McNamara
Last updated on 25th June 2020
3 min read

One-third of our lives are spent working, so it’s no surprise that this environment can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing.

Mental health awareness has grown over the past few years and many businesses already focus on how they can support wellbeing by reducing workplace stress.

Yet, still only 14% of people are comfortable speaking to their manager about stress and 15.4 million working days were lost last year due to work-related mental illness in the UK alone.

Research shows that there are multiple reasons why work-related stress can occur. 44% of employees put this down to their workload, while others state workplace bullying, a lack of support and even simple changes to their work environment as factors.

Whatever the driving force behind stress, the responsibility of preventing and managing the overall stress of a company’s workforce often falls to HR and People teams.

We asked some leading HR professionals to give us their top tips on how to successfully reduce workplace stress.

1. Be open and inclusive

You’d be surprised at the amount of stress that is caused by a lack of communication and feedback.

“If someone comes to you to voice their concerns, listen and acknowledge their feelings, don’t simply dismiss them out of hand,” explains Jon Thurmond, Regional Human Resources Manager at Team Fishel, and host of the #HRSocialHour.

Instead, remove uncertainty and tension by creating an environment where employees feel encouraged and confident to voice their questions and opinions.

Demonstrating a “genuine desire to be more open and inclusive” with your workforce will reduce stress by giving them a sense of “involvement and control” over their environment, adds Perry Timms, Founder and Chief Energy Officer at People and Transformational HR.

2. Use positive language

Research has shown that our brains take on information delivered in a positive way far better than information delivered in a negative one. Happier words can lead to a more constructive culture and optimistic, motivated employees.

To design “a positive work environment you need to create an affirming and uplifting work setting,” says Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and co-founder of global professional services firm, RBL Group.

Encourage your team and business leaders to use words that bring about constructive interactions. Be personal, supportive, passionate and empowering in your communication and interactions with your people. The words you choose are instrumental in generating a more positive workforce experience.

3. Provide purpose at work

Insight from a study conducted by Cornell University suggests that having a sense of purpose may protect people against stress.

Giving your employees control over their “identity at work” and connecting their personal success to “the brand of their organization” will give them a feeling of their own significance and control over their own destiny, adds Ulrich.

Employees whose managers involve them in goal setting are over three times more likely than other employees to be engaged and motivated. If your people understand how their work fits into the organization’s goals, this could give them a clearer understanding of the role they play and alleviate feelings of stress. 

4. Eliminate blame

Examine your company culture. Are your employees taking risks, making mistakes, learning and moving on or are they so frightened of making mistakes that they are not even trying?

Surprisingly, studies on blame culture have revealed that the fear of being blamed is higher than the fear of being punished. Many employees are so worried about finger-pointing at work that they either don’t try, spend a disproportionate amount of time playing it safe or find ways to cover their tracks, all of which are not healthy for them or the organization.

Remove the potential stress of blame by “helping employees learn from good and bad experiences” and see failure as a positive path to learn, innovate and flourish, adds Ulrich.

Leading by example can help encourage this. Take accountability for mistakes, talk openly about failure at work and encourage your workforce to take constructive insight from errors rather than point the finger.

5. Say thank you

This one’s simple but often gets missed. Be sure to celebrate recognize employees’ successes. The more honest and personalized you can be in your praise, the more genuine the positive impact.

“Small tokens of appreciation and recognition can go a long way” in keeping your people “engaged when stress levels are high,” explains Thurmond.

Gallup research has shown that workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment and makes employees feel valued for their work.

When was the last time you thanked a colleague for something they did for you?

How are HR and People leaders of today preparing for the challenges of tomorrow? Download our latest research, The changing face of HR, today to find out.

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