While stress sometimes goes hand-in-hand with working life, extreme or debilitating stress is harmful for employee wellbeing, productivity and efficiency. This Stress Awareness Month, it is crucial leaders are proactive in helping employees keep stress at bay and preventing it from escalating into more serious wellbeing issues such as burnout. The ultimate goal should be sustainable high performance.

Workplace wellbeing expert and founder of WorkingWell, Lesley Cooper draws on her 25 years of experience to advise leaders how to do this in 5 simple steps.

  1. Maintain a Psychologically Safe Workplace Culture

A psychologically safe culture is the foundation of any wellbeing framework. Employees need to feel that they can speak openly and voice their concerns without fear of negative consequences. If employees don’t feel safe they won’t indicate that they are struggling with stress before it’s too late. This is especially important right now when so much of the world around us feels unsafe.

Lesley advises leaders to set a precedent by showing their own vulnerability to employees so that they know it is okay to do so, and feel comfortable doing the same.

  1. Have regular check-ins

A crucial role for leaders is to be there for employees as a sounding board, or to offer advice and support. Checking in on employees to see how they are getting on with their work, but also focusing on their pressure management and how they feel they are coping with their current workload, is important.

Having these regular, constructive conversations will help prevent stress snowballing into bigger issues, and will help employees feel that they can speak honestly with leaders.

  1. Build in intentional recovery in teams

Intentional recovery periods are important to build into company culture to help avoid overworking and burnout.

Intentional recovery must be built into organisational culture to ensure that employees know that taking breaks between tasks is standard practice. Having time away from work and our screens will help recharge employee energy reserves and minimise the escalation of stress. Everyone recharges differently, but movement can be a key way to break linearity.

  1. Encourage self-protecting boundaries 

It can be hard to set boundaries and say no in the workplace, particularly when we want to impress managers and help out colleagues. However often this can lead to excess stress as we take on too much.

Encouraging employees to prioritise their wellbeing before overworking and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable saying no when faced with excess work is key to helping employees manage stress.

  1. Don’t forget your own mental health

As a leader it can be difficult to manage stress when it feels like it is coming at us from all angles. When you are responsible for protecting the wellbeing of others, it can be easy to forget about our own mental health.

Leaders should ”establish office hours where you can be fully present for employees, then establish allocated time for their own uninterrupted work.” This will allow leaders to manage their time and not become snowed under while supporting employees.

Stress awareness is crucial

Pressure and stress are not the same thing. Pressure is a neutral input – stress is the negative outcome of perceived pressure exceeding perceived ability to cope. The stress response can be hugely debilitating, both to individual wellbeing and company productivity. Taking these steps to address high levels of pressure before they drive the stress outcome is crucial to managing wellbeing and business health.

Lesley Cooper, founder of WorkingWell

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Workplace Wellbeing Professional is an online magazine featuring news and analysis on a broad range of employee wellbeing topics, focused on a UK based audience.