Maytree is trying to help the non-profit sector thrive in these changing times.
They asked me as a psychiatrist and CEO of Wellesley Institute, a policy think tank, to give my Five Good Ideas to decrease employee stress. I hope you find them useful.
Stress can be brought about by factors at home and factors at work. Employers cannot do that much to intervene in stresses outside the workplace but they can do quite a lot to improve stress due to work.
One-quarter of Canadians consider their work to be a significant source of stress. Stress causes physical and psychological problems, which impacts the ability to function in various roles. In the workplace stress can lead to problems with performance, job satisfaction, absenteeism, and presenteeism. It can increase staff turnover, undermine working relationships and productivity. One of the main causes of stress is change. If an organization wants to succeed in changing it needs to manage stress in the workplace. Good management is stress management.
Stress at work comes from a number of sources. But in general, stress occurs when a person feels that the demands on them are greater than their ability to deliver. Other factors then kick into either decrease or increase stress. The most common are:
- Organizational (management style, communication and the amount of say workers have in decisions)
- Work type (physical and social environment, pace of work, timing and level of autonomy)
- Role (ambiguity, conflict, and level of responsibility)
- Interpersonal relationships
- Career development and job security
- Work home interface
Good management and good work organization are the best prevention against stress in the workplace. But if a person is stressed the manager should be aware of it and have ways of directing individuals to the right support as well as considering whether an accommodation is required.
I offer my Five Good Ideas for decreasing stress, which come from my experience in the non-profit knowledge-based and service sector. But I would also refer you to HR specialists such as the HR Council.
Five Good Ideas to Decrease Workplace Stress
- Build resilience. There are many models out there for how we can all build our individual resilience to the challenges life throws at us. Building resilience will help to decrease our stress levels. I like this simple but effective five-point model, which is offered by the UK charity Mind. I like it because it is something we can do for ourselves but employers can think of ways to promote the five ways to keep mentally resilient in the workplace: (Connect, stay active, keep learning, be mindful, give back)
- Understand the stress performance curve. Make it part of the way you think about work. We all know the curve, but do we use it? We know that increasing stress increases performance to a point but after that it makes our performance worse. We all also know that the curve is different for different people and for different tasks. If we get our workforces in the right place on the stress performance curve we can decrease stress by increasing productivity. Most people can cope with hard work if they are succeeding. For the stress performance curve, this article from Mind Tools will be of interest to you. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/inverted-u.htm
- Create coherence. One of the things that stresses workforce most is when work does not make sense. The US sociologist Aaron Antonovsky has developed a theory of coherence. Coherence is complex but includes three factors:
- Things make sense and are predictable
- You can manage things and that you have the skills, resources, and support to do what you need to
- What you are doing is really worth the effort that you are putting in, that you care and get sufficient enjoyment
Decreasing stress in employees requires the development of a feeling of coherence. This is an interesting study of coherence, job stress and work performance.
- Allow power sharing and control
Study after study has shown that workers who have more autonomy are less stressed and live longer. Every group that gives advice on decreasing job stress say that employers should as much as possible give people the ability to make decisions on how they work. Some go further and state that giving people more collective power decreases overall stress and increases company performance.
- Move towards Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) standard for a psychologically safe workplace
The MHCC has set a standard for a psychologically safe workplace. It is an evidence-based consensus strategy for Canadian workplaces that includes ways of assessing your company and strategies to improve psychological health. Training supports it.
The three pillars are the prevention of harm, the promotion of health and the resolution of incidents or concerns.
The Standard provides a framework to create and continually improve a psychologically healthy and safe workplace through: the identification and elimination of hazards in the workplace that pose a risk of psychological harm to a worker; the assessment and control of the risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated; implementing structures and practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace; and, fostering a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace.
Further Reading and Resources
Work Organisation and Stress (World Health Organization)
Workplaces that Work (hrcouncil.ca)
The Whitehall Study (Wikipedia)
National Standard (MHCC)
Job stress, sense of coherence and work wellness in an electricity supply organisation (South African Journal of Business Managment)