How to manage employee stress more effectively

Do you want to improve how you manage employee stress within your business? If so, read on for tips from senior clinical psychologist Dr Jivan Culshaw.

Did you know that more than 50 per cent of employees will suffer from symptoms of stress, anxiety and/or depression sometime in their lifetime? Did you know that a staggering 11.7 million working days a year are lost to stress in the UK (HSE 2015/16).

In fact, stress accounts for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health and cost the UK economy £6.1 billion in 2016.

A range of organisations are working closely with employers to help them change how managers manage stress and build resilience in the workforce, and how employees themselves cope with stress in adaptive ways.

Often psychologists, both occupational and clinical, lead on these initiatives within organisations. Dr Jivan Culshaw, senior clinical psychologist with the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust is one such professional.

Dr Culshaw has spent the last ten years working with various organisations in the area of employee stress. Her work includes offering workshops for managers and employees, coaching, consultation and advice, and for some organisations short-term psychological interventions to help employees get back to work.

Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust itself has invested heavily in supporting the wellbeing of its workforce through many initiatives, one of which is the provision of Increasing Resilience programmes. These programmes have yielded positive outcomes for all levels of employees throughout the organisation.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

When we spoke to Dr Culshaw, she was eager to share some of her expertise with us.

“Stress is a complex construct that involves a number of variables that interact with one another leading to us feeling overwhelmed and stressed,” she said.

“How we think, behave and feel, our personality, and how we respond physically, influences how we view and assess a situation. Stress occurs when an external demand is perceived as exceeding our capacity to deal with it.

“When we become stressed, we can respond in a variety of ways. We can, for example, make more errors, feel overwhelmed, become more forgetful and certainly become less productive. Each of us has different coping mechanisms – some of them are helpful and some very definitely are not and make things worse in the long run.

“Some people use alcohol, for example, which we know has a depressant effect. Some of us bury our heads in the sand and can’t confront, deal with and resolve a problem. Some of us can’t ask for help – we soldier on until we burn out, can’t cope, fall ill or even experience stress-induced physical conditions.”

More helpful ways of coping include talking about problems with supportive others, ensuring a healthy work life balance, developing problem solving techniques, learning ways to recognise stress early and practising methods to manage stress effectively.

For some, mindfulness techniques can help, for others a solution-focused stance of recognising one’s own individual needs and making behavioural changes can work.

Dr Culshaw emphasised to us the importance of bridging the gap between knowing about stress and being able to implement and use effective coping strategies. She believes that for positive outcomes, employees need to be offered tailored workshops, embedded in specialist psychological understanding. Workshops need to be focused on building resilience and developing an individual’s adaptive responses to stress.

Dr Culshaw explained that as individuals we can all do things to help ourselves with stress. However, she said organisations also have a responsibility to do their bit and she is clear that prevention is a better long-term investment than cure.

Managers can develop their understanding of workforce stress and develop a culture where people with such difficulties feel supported and helped before they burn out. Different styles and models of management are associated with varying levels of employee stress.

Management teams who involve and consult the workforce about change and decisions are likely to increase the level of perceived control employees have over their jobs, which is associated with reduced stress.

Access to psychological support can emphasise the commitment of the organisation in helping their staff deal with the demands of work. Managers can also develop plans to build resilience in the workforce. Employees can be encouraged to identify strengths and resources and build on those attributes to empower individuals.

A resilient workforce is a workforce that can withstand the demands and stresses of their various roles within your organisation, without becoming ill.

For more information on Dr Culshaw’s work with organisations, contact her at [email protected].

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024