(That aren’t yoga, mindfulness or table tennis tables)
Monday 24 July was Lifeline’s annual Stress Down Day, when employees are encouraged to engage in various fundraising activities that focus on reducing stress at work. Some of Lifeline’s suggestions include a worst dad joke competition, a paper plane throwing contest, lunchtime yoga, and wearing slippers and PJs or a zany costume to work. Their goal is, of course, to help people feel less stressed at work while also raising money for Lifeline’s services. It’s a great way to raise awareness of the impact of stress at work and ways to alleviate stress.
On a more general level, most stress reduction initiatives to date have focused on stress management strategies such as mindfulness, exercise, and time management, all of which have been shown to help reduce feelings of stress. These strategies are necessary because although we might wish to live entirely stress-free lives, we also know that stress can never be entirely prevented or avoided.
In fact, we know that feeling a moderate amount of stress when appropriate can help us perform, by helping us focus our attention. However, extremely high levels or prolonged feelings of stress can be counterproductive and have negative impacts on mental and physical health.
So, what can we do minimise the chance of unnecessary stress or prolonged experiences of stress?
We need to focus on implementing proactive, upstream strategies that address some of the root causes of stress in the workplace by redesigning work. This means focusing job responsibilities, tasks, and the working environment to prevent and limit the occurrence of stress.
Despite strong research to support the idea that work redesign benefits to both organisations and individual employees, it’s often seen as an area that is difficult to change. So, below are four simple ideas to help decrease sources of stress in the workplace.
1. Increase role clarity
Role clarity means having a clear understanding of the objectives, tasks, responsibilities, and accountability of your role. It means being able to understand how your role relates to other roles; how it contributes to the overall functioning of your area and being able to understand if you are performing well or not.
At a manager or supervisor level, this means helping your team understand how to work together, and clearly assigning their tasks and roles.
For individuals, this means clearly communicating the goals of your tasks with the people you work with; what you are going to do and how, and asking about what others are doing.
There are a number of options for this, such as scrums, weekly meetings, and informal communications or even clear role descriptions.
2. Improve co-worker support
Research suggests that social support is useful in helping us accomplish tasks, and also in positively influencing the way that we perceive stress: people who have social support are more likely to perceive their work stressors as more manageable.
You can do this by encouraging employees to feel safe about speaking out if they require help. If a team member comes to you requiring help, then it’s important to reinforce that asking for help is good, which could be as simple as saying ‘thanks for raising this’, rather than suggesting that it’s a hindrance or burden to others. It’s also important to understand that we may need to ask some people how we can help them, rather than relying on them to speak out.
You should also encourage and support team members who have difficult or complex tasks to complete. We may not always be in a position to directly help a colleague with in this situation; however you could think about if it may be useful for them if you listened to their ideas, did a coffee run for them, acted a sounding board, assisted with other tasks on their plate, or celebrated to recognise finishing a tough project.
3. Increase employees’ contribution in planning and decision-making
Managers can encourage team members to work closely together and support each other; they can also help employees plan their work, and ensure that they have a voice by consulting with them on decisions that will impact their work. This not only increases buying in and appropriateness of planning, but also helps enhance job control for employees.
Within a team, this means communicating within and between teams to ensure that there is appropriate planning to stop ‘silos’ forming, and to promote joint decision making when decisions affect multiple teams, all of which increases knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Managers play a key role in increasing employees’ contributions to planning since they’re the usually key decision makers and will often have a stronger sense of how each employee’s work ties in other departments.
4. Change the work environment to decrease physical work stressors
A good work environment goes beyond providing a table tennis table (as good as they are!). It’s about ensuring that we’re providing resources to help employees avoid feeling physically strained at work.
Some simple examples could include providing headsets for employees who spend a lot of time on the phone, and standing or adjustable desks to help prevent the physical strain of sitting all day.
This also means providing environments that suit the type of work that is required, such as making sure there are enough areas for collaboration when people need to work together and providing plenty of quiet areas for people to work on their own.
About the Author
Leanne Lee is the Principal Consultant Psychologist at Revelian. She is a registered Psychologist with a Master of Industrial and Organisational Psychology and a member of the College of Organisational Psychology.
She is passionate about understanding human behaviour in the workplace and has specific interests in diversity, employee engagement and leveraging technology in the field of organisational psychology. She has extensive experience across both public and private sectors in psychometric assessments, learning and development, assessment centres and capability frameworks. She is committed to partnering with organisations to understand their business problems and implement initiatives that achieve results and provide return on investment.