How can you help your employees deal with stressful situations?

I’ve been thinking a lot about stress at work, and in life, for the past few days – I attended the CIPD event “Unlocking Stress Success” this week with Sue Evans from FAST Pathways.  The FAST Pathways skills are designed to embed powerful strategies to resolve stress, maximising resilience without having to keep on doing anything differently – often resulting in people worrying less, sleeping better, feeling less overloaded, and dealing more smoothly with challenging relationships.

Just to give you an idea of how stress affects us:

  • Stress and mental health account for 49% of all sickness (HSE Labour Force Survey)
  • 15% of employees have taken time off for stress, but 7% of these have given a different reason (FAST Pathways Survey)
  • 10% of people have left a job because of stress (MIND survey)
  • 42% have considered leaving their jobs because of stress – most employers are not aware of this (FAST Pathways Survey)
  • Less than 60% of organisations are taking steps to identify and reduce workplace stress – most common approaches are a survey, flexible working, risk assessments / audits (CIPD Absence Management Survey)
  • 37% of organisations offer stress counselling for short term absence, but only 3% reported it amongst the top 3 most effective methods (CIPD Absence Management Survey)

The government-commissioned paper “Thriving at Work” quotes the annual cost of mental health (absence, presenteeism and resignations):

  • Private sector – between £1,119 and £1,481 per employee
  • Public sector – between £1,676 and £1,795 per employee

Our stress levels fluctuate over time, and we need a certain amount of stress to be motivated. In the middle zone, stress is useful and gives us energy. Being a manager, parent or leader are stressful, but we embrace this as part of life

No matter how talented or experienced your people are, every one of them experiences stress, every day – which can significantly impact their performance. Our most common stresses are finances, bullying, changing situations, families, to name but a few, and we tend to focus most on the areas that are uncomfortable for us.

Stress is basically the disconnect between the way we want things to be, and they way they actually are. Generally, when we find situations stressful, we can’t change the way things are – but we can change the way we are. One of the biggest drawbacks to managing our stress is we don’t always do the things that are best for us – we all know what the basics of self-care are, but especially in times of stress we don’t always do what we need to look after ourselves.

Sue outlined 4 steps to follow when we find ourselves becoming overwhelmed:

  1. Recognise what specific stressors are. Try and reset, take deep breaths, re-contextualise, look straight up ahead at the ceiling, which actually changes our brainwaves – this reboots your system and returns you to emotional neutrality, getting your system off high alert
  2. Take responsibility. Rather than going into fight or flight mode, challenge and reframe the stressor rather than denying it
  3. Connect with others. We achieve meaning and purpose from interactions with others. Decide what you want to experience and involve your creative to deal with what you can’t change. We can’t change the situation, but we can change how we experience it
  4. Skills. Sue shared her shield technique with us, which is basically:
  • Think about what makes you feel good
  • Visualise your shield – it can look anyway you want it to
  • Every time you struggle with a person or situation, imagine your shield around you protecting you – this sounds crazy but it actually works!

Finally, from an HR point of view, I can never emphasise enough the need to treat with your employees like people and train your managers to be able to recognise signs of stress and deal with them appropriately and with empathy. The saying “People leave managers not organisations” is a cliché but like all clichés, there’s an element of truth in it – if your employees don’t feel supported, valued and listened to by their managers, no amount of fresh fruit or lunchtime yoga will make them want to remain in your organisation!

Liverpool HR can offer further training and strategies to support your employees’ mental health and wellbeing – contact us here.

T: 0151 728 7717


Twitter: @LiverpoolHR