With stress on the rise in Australian workplaces, an understanding of the causes and how to handle them are essential.
Work-related stress is the most common health and safety issue in Australian workplaces according to AccessEAP. The not-for-profit company, which promotes positive organisational behaviour, has compiled data from organisations in various industries in Australia and can reveal the top five ways to handle workplace stress.
But first, it’s important to gain a context of the causes. A recent ME Bank Household Financial Comfort Report found that the top five causes of work-related stress are:
- Job insecurity
- Work overload
- Organisational change
- Conflict with a manager or colleagues
- Bullying and harassment
The report also found that feelings of job insecurity rose from 26 per cent to 31 per cent during the second half of 2013.
Added to this is the Australian Psychological Society’s 2013 Stress and Wellbeing in Australia survey, which reported significantly lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of stress and distress than in the previous two years.
What can HR do?
Employers can set up management courses and ‘build resilience’ seminars to help employees understand and manage stress. But unless an organisation creates a culture of open communication and realistic, achievable demands and deadlines for employees, work overload and the stress it creates will continue to exist.
Here are the top five ways to handle workplace stress that I have found produce positive results:
- Work out your priorities. Write them down each morning, from top to bottom, and take one thing at a time. Make and keep lists, and make sure the tasks set are achievable.
- Practice saying no. If employees are already feeling overloaded, encourage them to think before committing to added expectations or agendas.
- Don’t take things personally. Make allowances for the fact that stress can make employees more sensitive in reacting to others and more prone to taking things personally.
- Prioritise relaxation and exercise. These are not optional extras for handling stress; they are essential. Set aside time each day for them.
- Identify your stress situations. Take heed of events that may leave employees emotionally drained and develop one or two ways to reduce the stress.
Counting the cost
Mental health issues continue to cost employers. According to a recent PwC study and www.headsup.org.au, one-fifth of Australian workers have taken time off in the past 12 months due to stress, anxiety, depression or feeling mentally unwell.
This absenteeism results in 12 million days of reduced productivity a year, amounting to a direct economic loss to employers of $6 million a year.
Although mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility, business owners and leaders play an even more critical role. They have the capacity to influence colleagues and implement the necessary changes to work towards workplace wellbeing.