National stress awareness week is upon us again, and we wanted to explore stress from a positive angle this year.

After all, most of us know about the negative effects of stress; poor concentration, irritability, reduced productivity and often physical illness amongst others, and the potential impact these will have on work output.

But sometimes hearing about all the bad things only proves to cause more stress, especially if we feel we’ve got no hope in beating it. So, we figured it was time to flip it on its head and ask what would a stress-free, resilient version of you look like?  Or if you are reading this as a manager, how might your workforce change if they weren’t stressed at work?

(Note: Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, death. These insights shared below are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness.)

How a stress-free, resilient workforce might look

Imagine coming in to work, sitting down to begin the day and smiling to yourself because you know you can handle whatever the day throws at you. In fact, scrap that, image waking up in the morning and not dreading the day ahead. Do either of those sound familiar or even plausible? Hopefully you answered yes (at least to it being plausible); if not you might benefit from a bit of stress reduction and resilience building at work. But before we move on to that, take some time to think about how your work and the whole office might change if you could all enjoy a less stressful working life.

You’d probably be:

  • More productive – without the weight of the world on your shoulders you can get on with the things that need doing, and don’t have to flit from one thing to the other, meaning the work you do is better quality.
  • More engaged – because you know you can handle anything that comes your way, you can engage more fully with the work you do, and find yourself having the time to enjoy what you do and renew your sense of purpose in the organisation.
  • More sociable – your higher levels of productivity mean you now have time for more social encounters with your colleagues, and because you’re not constantly battling an onslaught of work, you actively enjoy getting to know your colleagues better, leading to better team working.
  • More cheerful – because you are getting your work done on time, enjoying the work you do and interacting more with your colleagues, you are naturally more cheerful, and find yourself laughing and joking more.
  • More relaxed – this new productive, cheerful, sociable and engaged you is much more relaxed, and you can enjoy a much more serene approach to work and life.

It might sound like a dream, but a less stressful workplace can happen, and it only takes a few minor tweaks.

How a stress-free workforce can happen

Firstly, it’s important to point out that stress can’t be eliminated completely, and neither should it be. In fact, a little stress, such as a deadline or healthy competition is actually good for most people; it helps motivate them to get things done. But unnecessary stress, such as too heavy a workload, poor management, and inadequate communication, can and should be addressed and changed. That’s not to say it’s easy of course, but it’s certainly not impossible. There is a wealth of techniques employers (and employees) can implement to help reduce stress and support people in developing resilience and mental toughness to manage any stress better.

  • Training – make sure employees have the necessary skills to do what they need to do. If an employee is using Excel every day, for example, but has to spend time scouring the internet to find out how to run reports, this is going to cause them stress. They’ll be stressed because they don’t know something, stressed because they have to waste time they don’t have finding information out, and stressed because they probably have to meet a looming deadline. With a simple training course all of this could be eliminated.
    Equally, training can be providing in areas such as resilience and mental toughness, to support individuals in developing the mindset, skillset and toolset needed to tackle problems proactively.
  • Make sure people are in the right role – if you have a team member who is constantly stressed and underperforming, don’t just assume they are lazy or poorly qualified; find out if the work they’re doing matches their personal goals, and if not, support them to find some degree of alignment. This may mean a change of role, or simply a reassessment of responsibilities, but either way, organisations shouldn’t be overly precious about sticking to prescribed roles, internal mobility and flexibility are key in creating a less stressed and more engaged workforce.
  • Show appreciation – this doesn’t just apply to managers; if you are working with someone who has done a good job or helped you out, let them know. Feeling unappreciated is a serious morale killer and being unsure if you’ve done a good job or not because no one has told you, is also very stressful as it causes uncertainty. A simple ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’ can do wonders.
  • Offer workplace support – A simple Employee Assistance Programme can have an amazing impact on stress levels. Things like counselling services, occupational health, and discounted gym memberships are all basic things businesses can offer to help reduce the impact of work stress.

The employee’s role

While there is much an organisation can do to improve the working lives of their employees, it cannot be denied that the employees also have responsibility to manage their stress at work. Some individuals may have a natural tendency to react more negatively to life events than others, it’s unfortunate but true. However, if this applies to you, there are strategies available to help mitigate this and the effect it has on your work (and personal lives). If you notice that you are becoming stressed or overwhelmed then it is important you take action to address it before it gets worse. There are a wide range of things that may help, and every person will have a personal preference, but here are a few suggestions.

  • Tell your boss – if your work situation is becoming too much, it is your responsibility to tell your boss and if appropriate, present a possible solution. This can be a scary step, but unless your manager knows you are struggling, they can’t do anything to help, and in most cases your manager will be more than happy to support you however they can. (Besides, if your boss is not willing to support you in managing your work better, they may not be someone you want to work for anyway.)
  • Meditation and mindfulness – these are becoming more and more popular in the workplace as ways to manage stress and increase productivity, there are thousands of resources to help you learn these techniques (books, apps, courses, online activities), so investigate the different options to see if they could benefit you.
  • Seek professional help – if your stress is having real and lasting effects on your wellbeing, it may be time to speak with a trained professional. Find out if your workplace provides any form of employee support; alternatively find an independent specialist yourself. Depending on your location, there are a range of free services available via the NHS.

There are many things that both employers and employees can do to help reduce stress in the workplace and encourage greater resilience, but it is when the two parties collaborate that the most profound effects are usually observed. It can take a little time and effort to get it right, but considering the positive effect it can have for both the employees and the business, it is certainly worth the investment.

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