10 top tips for supporting workers experiencing stress & burnout

In Stress Awareness month, Adrian Lewis from Activ People HR urges employers to do more to support workers who may be experiencing stress or burnout as the cost-of-living crisis continues to add to people’s daily struggles.

Adrian Lewis says, “Stress and burnout in the workplace is a growing issue. The pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis have added to the daily challenges people face. Recently two high profile leaders, Jacinda Ardern former PM of New Zealand and the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon have stepped down citing ‘burnout’ and the job having taken its toll[i] – but the reality is it can happen to anyone.

“In Stress Awareness month we recommend that employers check in with their staff to ensure they are well and put measures in place to support those who may be showing signs of stress or burnout. This helps avoid things escalating and employees having to take time off in the future if they reach the stage they can no longer cope with work.”

The Health & Safety Executive’s latest data[ii] shows that almost a million (0.9m) workers in the UK were suffering with work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22 and that 17.0 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

Westfield Health[iii] last year reported that 8.7 billion of additional hours had been worked throughout the pandemic, which left almost half of workers close to burnout, but the recent UK Human Workplace Index (HWI)[iv] says its financial concerns causing people issues now.

In a survey with UK employees they found 84% are experiencing stress and anxiety due to the cost-of-living crisis. Not surprising given 61.5% said they have struggled to pay at least one of their expenses in the past three months, with utility bills, petrol and food coming out on top as the expenses most struggled to pay.

Adrian adds, “We are facing a modern-day epidemic which could escalate into more serious mental health issues if not nipped in the bud and support offered. Employers have an important role to play and looking after workers wellbeing should be a priority. Here are 10 tips for managing stress in the workplace.”

Consider offering flexible working if it’s not already something the firm has already embraced. This could be hybrid, part-time working, flexi-time, nine-day fortnight, job share, compressed hours or working at home – whatever suits the organisation and the employee best.

Tackle the stigma around stress and mental health. Encourage an open culture and conversations around mental wellbeing, put advice and guidance on the intranet and signpost people to support. Lead from the top and ensure line managers are trained to understand stress and spot the signs.

Boost engagement and morale across the organisation with team socials, monthly events and awards or just a simple thank you to the team every week for their hard work. As people often worked alone during the pandemic years it’s more important than ever to get teams together and offer praise where it’s due.

Encourage people to take regular breaks and not eat lunch at their desks.  Going for a walk outside can help people feel more refreshed and less stressed, plus it’s good for posture. Ensure this message reaches people working at home too, as it’s easy for them to forget to take breaks or feel guilty leaving their desk.

Introduce an absence management system instead of using out-of-date paper forms and spreadsheets, to monitor absence trends. This can help organisations keep track of who’s in or not, especially if the organisation offers flexible/hybrid working. It can also flag up if someone is taking a lot of time off sick, which can indicate an issue.

Always do return to work interviews when people are off sick. This gives employees the opportunity to talk about any issues or feelings of stress in a safe space, as well as give managers the chance spot potential areas of concern.

Make sure employees use their annual leave and take regular breaks. Not taking any holiday can be a sign that someone is struggling with a high work load or under pressure. They could already be stressed or heading that way.

Adopt a positive management style to help employees feel more engaged. It’s important to regularly praise and recognise people’s achievements, and encourage employees to suggest new ideas and generally become more involved in the goals of the organisation.

Signpost employees to benefits such as Employee Assistance Programmes that are often part of benefit policies and can provide mental health support. Often these are not promoted enough which means they are underused by employees.

Consider a team session looking at ways to combat stress and the signs to look out for in themselves and colleagues. End the session highlighting what workplace policies are in place for tackling stress, so everyone is aware of the support on offer.

For more information on Activ People HR visit: www.activpeoplehr.co.uk.

[i] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-64661974

[ii] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh2122.pdf

[iii] https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/the-working-population-are-at-risk-of-job-burnout-mental-health-remote-working/136705/

[iv] https://bdaily.co.uk/articles/2023/01/25/cost-of-living-crisis-over-62-of-employees-threaten-to-quit-if-employers-dont-address-financial-struggles

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