Unravelling the Strains of Stress: Prioritising Mental Health at Work
By Stavy Papasotiriou, Organisational Psychologist and Founder of Work Unlocked
In the post-COVID world of work, stress has emerged as an all-too-familiar companion for countless employees. The relentless pressure to meet deadlines, constant multitasking, and navigating complex interpersonal dynamics can significantly impact mental well-being. As we delve into the psychological principles behind stress and its profound effects on mental health, it becomes evident why companies should place a deep emphasis on the well-being of their workforce. Join us on this journey as we explore the importance of prioritising mental health in the workplace and uncover strategies to foster a supportive and thriving work environment.
WHAT IS STRESS AND HOW DOES IT IMPACT MENTAL HEALTH?
Stress, viewed from a psychological perspective, is the body's natural response to perceived threats or challenges, known as the "fight or flight" response. This mechanism releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to prepare us to deal with potential dangers, providing short-term benefits such as increased focus and productivity. However, chronic or excessive stress can have adverse consequences, affecting both physical and mental health.
When stress becomes a constant companion, it can lead to various mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. Prolonged exposure to stress can burden individuals emotionally, impacting job performance, relationships, and overall quality of life. Moreover, stress-induced mental health problems can create a cycle that makes it challenging for individuals to cope effectively with stressors.
STRESS AND ORGANISATIONAL SUCCESS: WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION
· Employee Productivity: Stressed employees are often less focused, have reduced cognitive abilities, and are more prone to making errors.
· Employee Retention and Attraction: Companies that demonstrate a genuine concern for employee well-being are more likely to retain their top talent and attract new hires and become a magnet for skilled professionals seeking a healthy work-life balance.
· Cost Reduction: Unaddressed mental health issues can lead to absenteeism, presenteeism, and increased healthcare costs.
· Workplace Culture: A culture that promotes mental health creates a positive work environment where individuals feel supported, valued, and encouraged to share their struggles.
· Ethical Responsibility: As responsible employers, companies have a moral obligation to prioritise the well-being of their employees. Investing in mental health initiatives showcases a commitment to the welfare of the workforce beyond mere profits.
THE 6 PRIMARY SOURCES OF WORK-RELATED STRESS
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has identified six Management Standards that encompass the primary sources of work-related stress and significantly impact employee well-being. Understanding and effectively managing these factors are vital for fostering a healthy and productive work environment.
The first primary source of work-related stress is "Demands", which encompasses various factors, including workload, work patterns, and the work environment. A heavy workload with unrealistic expectations can overwhelm employees, leading to burnout and reduced productivity. Additionally, irregular work patterns, such as long hours or rotating shifts, can disrupt sleep patterns and negatively affect physical and mental health.
Properly managing demands involves striking a balance between challenging tasks and reasonable expectations while ensuring a conducive and comfortable work environment.
The level of control employees have over their work significantly influences their well-being. When individuals have autonomy and decision-making authority in their roles, they feel empowered and motivated. On the other hand, lack of control can lead to feelings of powerlessness and frustration.
Encouraging employees to have a say in how they approach their tasks and providing opportunities for self-directed work can enhance their sense of control and reduce stress.
A supportive work environment is crucial for employee well-being. This includes encouragement, sponsorship, and resources provided by the organisation, line management, and colleagues. Feeling supported and valued in the workplace fosters a sense of belonging and reduces feelings of isolation or helplessness.
Offering support mechanisms, such as mentorship programs or team-building activities, can strengthen relationships and create a more compassionate workplace.
Positive working relationships are essential for maintaining a harmonious and productive work environment. Promoting healthy communication, cooperation, and respect among colleagues can prevent conflicts and reduce stress.
Addressing unacceptable behaviour promptly and implementing policies to promote a positive work culture are vital steps in nurturing positive relationships at work.
Clarity in role expectations is critical for reducing work-related stress. When employees understand their roles within the organisation and their specific responsibilities, they can perform their tasks with confidence and purpose. Conflicting roles or unclear expectations can lead to confusion, frustration, and decreased job satisfaction.
Ensuring that job roles are well-defined and aligned with employees' skills and interests can lead to greater well-being and engagement.
Organisational change, whether large or small, can be a significant source of stress for employees. Poorly managed or communicated changes can create uncertainty and anxiety. Employees may fear job insecurity or struggle to adapt to new roles and responsibilities.
Open and transparent communication about organisational changes, along with providing support during transition periods, is essential for minimising stress and fostering resilience within the workforce.
In the fast-paced world of modern workplaces, prioritising mental health is becoming increasingly crucial for companies worldwide. By understanding stress from a psychological perspective, organisations can take proactive steps to support their employees' well-being. This includes managing workloads effectively, promoting autonomy and support, nurturing positive relationships, clarifying roles, and handling organisational changes with care. Such efforts lead to a happier, more engaged, and resilient workforce, resulting in increased productivity, reduced sickness absence, and higher employee satisfaction.
Let's work together to implement these valuable initiatives, making mental health a fundamental priority in your workplace and unlocking a future where employee well-being thrives.
About the author
Stavy Papasotiriou is an organisational psychologist and the visionary behind Work Unlocked — a leading HR consultancy on a mission to revolutionise employee engagement, performance, and retention in businesses worldwide. With a profound understanding of HR practices, Stavy leverages psychological principles to unleash the untapped potential of workforces. At Work Unlocked, Stavy crafts bespoke strategies that are grounded in research and tailored to each organisation's unique needs. These strategies are designed to yield remarkable results while requiring minimal resources.