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Combatting employee stress in the second wave

Combatting employee stress in the second wave

With winter fast approaching and the UK re-entering lockdown, the workforce is once again looking to HR for support. While many employers have their lockdown logistics already in place, this time the real test will be building long term resilience to help teams navigate the second wave.

According to our Divided Together report, 1 in 3 HR leaders are now looking to offer enhanced wellbeing support for employees. In recognition of International Stress Awareness Day, we consider how managers can ease the pressure during these trying times.

Workplace stress and mental health

In 2019, roughly 1 in 10 adults were experiencing some form of depression. By June 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, this had almost doubled to 19.2%. Of those affected by depression, 84.9% cited stress or anxiety as their main symptom.

To combat raised anxiety levels, employers must take a proactive approach. An effective stress management plan allows managers to step in before a stressful situation becomes a bigger mental health issue. When the pressure builds within a team, those with close connections will likely be the first to spot that something is wrong. If organisations can equip managers with the skills to identify potential stressors and take action, employees will be more productive and less likely to experience burnout.

Spotting the signs of employee stress

Sometimes the source of employee stress is obvious, such as a looming deadline or ambitious project, but often it’s a result of many smaller factors, which may not be linked to the workplace at all.

Employees struggling with stress may begin booking short blocks of annual leave at the last minute, taking unofficial ‘mental health days’ or cancelling meetings. If behaviour abruptly changes or seems out of the ordinary, it may be time to check in.

Problems at home will make it difficult to concentrate at work, but people may be reluctant to discuss their home life in a workplace setting. While it’s natural to compartmentalise our emotions, this can cause further stress and disruption to the work-life balance. Making the habit of checking in with your team and being honest about your own stress levels will make these conversations less intimidating.

Those working from home during lockdown might struggle with their boundaries being blurred. Encourage employees to create a separate work environment in their home if possible and reiterate the importance of switching off at the end of the day.

Tackle the taboo through open discussion

According to a recent survey by Raconteur, 59% of employees feel uncomfortable bringing up mental health issues with their manager. If your workforce is putting on a brave face, high pressure workplace habits may go unchecked and eventually lead to mass burnout.

You might consider running a session for people managers to encourage open conversation about stress levels within their teams. Monthly 1:1s are a great place to ask employees how they’re coping, but an informal chat can work just as well. The Mental Health Foundation has some useful tips for supporting your team through mental health problems.

Remember to consider how stress impacts the wider team. Conscientious employees may be reluctant to take time out if it puts additional pressure on their colleagues. If you notice a pattern of dependence on certain individuals, it may be time to explore a wider culture change.

For more in depth support, our health leadership training webinars offer practical advice on topics including emotional resilience and mental health awareness for all levels of line management.

Free downloadable guides for your team

Adapting to the changing seasons is tough at the best of times, and the coronavirus pandemic will make this year especially challenging. As the pressures of lockdown, furlough and workplace closures re-enter our lives, now is the time to offer authentic, meaningful support for your people.

Remember to remain visible and communicate openly about the on-going situation. Free resources such as Mind’s Telling My Employer page can help employees to feel more comfortable approaching their manager about stress.

Our Beat the Winter Blues series offers free downloadable guides for you to send to your team, each featuring tips and resources to help your people boost their winter wellbeing.

Westfield Health Beat the Winter Blues guide preview on iPad

Download the Beat the Winter Blues guides

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