Managing Stress in the Workplace – why the best stress policies aren’t enough on their own.
The way organisations have approached the subject of stress in the workplace has changed for the better over the last few years. For a start many organisations are actually talking openly about it, which is a really positive step forward. In the past some clients were embarrassed to talk about their training needs in this area but that’s not so anymore and that’s good because stress in the workplace is still very much a problem.
Each year the CIPD publishes a survey on Absence Management. In 2010 over a third of employers reported that stress related absence has increased over the past year and stress continues to be the most common cause of long term absence for non-manual workers.
What’s interesting about the results of the survey is that employers have recognised that investing in training for managers is at least as important as having written stress policies and guidance. That’s because a policy is only as effective as the people who implement it. Frontline managers are often the first to notice the signs, but need to develop the skills and confidence to have those initial conversations with staff before problems escalate into a long-term absence.
Training is important because managers have all sorts of concerns about having these types of discussions. Training can address these concerns by helping them to recognise the benefits of short conversations and the risks of not having them. It’s also important to clarify that their role is not to act as counsellors or therapists or to take responsibility or ownership of peoples problems.
There are of course some simple things they can do to acknowledge difficult circumstances that can make a huge difference. Giving someone who is experiencing stress an opportunity to externalise his or her thoughts and feelings is like releasing a safety valve which allows the person to gain some perspective. As the manager, it can feel as though we haven’t done very much by listening but the chances are that member of staff will feel better for just having talked about their concerns and explored some options. It can be enough to help someone feel more in control, which enhances their self-esteem and in turn their ability to cope.
So, what can managers do to make these conversations easier for them and the people they manager?
Top Five Tips for Managers
1 Deal with the problem while it is still small.
Have that conversation as soon as you become aware there is a problem. The earlier you have the conversation, the easier it will be and the greater the likelihood that you’ll have made a successful intervention.
2 Be honest about why you are having the conversation
Knowing how to start a discussion like this can reduce a lot of anxiety. If we ask lots of general questions about how a person is we may get nowhere at all. A simple rule is to focus on observed behaviour that has had an impact in the workplace. A way of starting might be to say “I wanted to have a chat because I’d noticed on a few of occasions recently that you’ve had to take short notice holiday and your work return has been down as a result. I was concerned because I know that’s unusual for you. Perhaps we could talk about it.”
3 Be prepared to have the conversation on their terms
Remember if you initiate the conversation you are holding it on your terms. It’s not a disciplinary interview so be prepared to allow the other person the flexibility to talk to you when they feel best able. It’s a conversation you have to have but a couple of extra days won’t make that much difference.
4 Hold your first thought!
When someone is talking about the things they have been finding stressful it’s easy to make judgements about what seems important and what seems trivial. Remember that they are your judgements. A seemingly trivial incident might be having a more significant impact on someone because of other negative events occurring at home or in the workplace. Remember, a small thing can be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
5 Don’t put yourself under pressure to solve or take ownership of problems
As a manager you are likely to be a good problem solver. It’s tempting to try and take control of a conversation like this and come up with solutions. If someone is struggling to cope don’t load them down further with the things you think they should do next. In terms of helping someone gain self-esteem it’s far more effective if we ask the other person what options they’ve considered and help them commit to their own next steps.
Interested in finding out more about our training courses for managers on tackling stress in the workplace? Call us or email us today to discuss your training needs further.