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Making stress-busting techniques work in the workplace
In the previous module, we looked at some effective stress management techniques, which can help lower stress and prevent burnout. In this module, we’ll take a closer look at environmental factors that have to be taken into consideration, when implementing these strategies. This module is primarily aimed at those in management, HR, Health and Safety, or anyone with an interest in how organizations can take steps to reduce employee stress.

It is unrealistic and undesirable to strive for a wholly stress-free workplace. However, there are several ways in which a working environment may be modified, so that those in attendance are less likely to feel the negative effects of stress:

Ensure natural light when possible.
Natural light enhances mood and increases energy levels, which, in turn, lessen the risk of chronic stress states. It is always preferable to have employees sitting facing a window, rather than a blank wall. At the same time, always make sure that they can close a blind or curtain, as appropriate.

Exposure to nature, in the form of the color green, plants and flowers, can also have a calming effect. If possible, introduce some greenery into the office environment. A couple of pot plants and a bunch of flowers in a vase can work well, to lift an atmosphere.

Ensure that individuals have access to water and high-quality food.
As outlined in the previous module, a high quality diet is essential in maintaining mental health. Make sure that fresh, clean, drinking water is readily available, at all times. If possible, put in place initiatives that encourage healthy eating. For example, if biscuits and cake are usually provided at meetings, try swapping these snacks for a fruit bowl instead.

Ensure that individuals have adequate time for breaks.
Nobody can concentrate for hours, without taking a break. Most people can focus for only 30-45 minutes at a time. Therefore, employees should be encouraged to get up, stretch and walk around, for at least a few minutes, every hour. Movement encourages blood flow, promotes endorphin release, promotes feelings of general well-being and gives workers a sense of control over their work.

Encourage individuals to personalize (within reason) their space with photos and décor that improves their mood.
Allow employees to feel as though they “own” their space. Whilst allowing individuals to cover every available surface with personal belongings is not appropriate, consider enacting a policy that is quite generous when it comes to desk decoration. A few photos of loved ones, or a favourite ornament, can boost mood - as well as reminding the individual that they have some control over their working environment.

Offer regular opportunities for training in skills that will lower stress levels.
Individuals who understand their roles and feel well-equipped to handle the day to day challenges that come with their jobs, are less likely to feel stressed. It is therefore vital that everyone understands what they ought to be doing - and how they can ask for help, should they require it.

In addition, employees should also be given regular training on self-care and skills that will directly result in reduced stress levels. For instance, instruction on time management and how to handle conflict at work, can be an excellent investment in terms of stress reduction. Remember that millions of sick days are lost to stress, depression and anxiety every year - and that employee illness costs organizations a significant amount of money. Investing in training now, could pay off later.

Provide opportunities for everyone in a team, or office, to form positive relationships.
Social support is a vital buffer against stress. Workplace bullying and alienation is a major factor behind work-related depression and anxiety. Team leaders and managers should emphasise the importance of mutual respect and clear communication, between team members. There should be a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment within the organization - and this should be made clear to everyone who joins. Hold regular events, such as after work drinks or an informal lunch, to promote team bonding.

Activity
If you currently manage a team, do you make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of stress those you supervise experience? If not, why not? Could you implement any of the above suggestions, over the coming weeks?

If you are not in a management position, consider whether you believe your manager does enough to reduce the risk of stress and burnout. If you feel as though your working environment could be greatly improved with a couple of adjustments, is there any way you could raise this possibility with a senior member of staff?

17. Personal Action Plan

Putting your new knowledge into action
By now, you will have a comprehensive knowledge of issues concerning stress and burnout in the workplace. You know what stress and burnout are, the signs and symptoms, how they can be prevented and how they ought to be dealt with. In this final module, you will devise your own “take away” from this course that will help you reduce your personal work-related stress.

Your personal stress prevention checklist
The following list is based on the material you have covered in this course. It pulls together key points regarding stress and burnout prevention. It may look quite long at first, but don’t feel daunted – you should be able to complete it in under half an hour. If possible, show your Personal Action Plan to your line manager, perhaps at your next scheduled review. The series of steps below will be particularly useful for those who suspect they are suffering from stress - and even for those who are not, it will still serve as a means of consolidating what you have learned

Personal Action Plan:

Step 1: Identify whether you are suffering from workplace stress
When you first read the list of signs and symptoms contained in the third module of this course, you may have instantly realised the extent to which you are suffering from workplace stress. Now you have reached the end of the course, re-visit the list and assess your current state again. Take a realistic appraisal of your last few days and weeks at work. On a typical day, do you feel worried and anxious most of the time? Do you show any of the common physical, emotional and psychological signs?

Step 2: Identify your risk of burnout or ongoing stress
If you have identified yourself as suffering from workplace stress, it is important to ascertain your risk of chronic stress, or even burnout. Firstly, consider whether the source of your stress is likely to go away any time soon – if so, it is reasonable to expect that your symptoms will also improve. Secondly, consider your personal history with stress – are you generally able to cope, or do you have a natural tendency to ruminate on the same difficulties over an extended period of time, or succumb to burnout?

Step 3: Get specific concerning the cause of any stress, or ongoing difficulties
A key step in resolving feelings of stress is to get to the root of the problem - and be able to spell out exactly what is bothering you. Considering some of the most common causes of workplace stress may be of help here. Are you stressed by any of the following?

Role ambiguity.
Hostile work environment.
Unrealistic work burden.
Dangerous work.
Isolation.
Lack of social support.
Lack of opportunities, chance of promotion, or further training.
Unrealistic deadlines.
Unpleasant working environment.
Job insecurity.

You may be facing multiple problems. Write them down. Getting them written on a page, can help you feel a little less overwhelmed.

Step 4: Talk to your manager or other appropriate person about how these root causes could be tackled
Armed with your list of symptoms and your list of root causes, you are now in a position to begin working on overcoming the basis of your stress. If possible, you should talk to your line manager, or team leader. This should be a person who understands the demands of your job - and also knows something of your personality. Ask for a confidential meeting. Take your notes with you and don’t be afraid to make notes of what they say in response. Be polite but assertive. Explain that you have been feeling under stress lately at work, for very specific reasons.

If you can, devise potential solutions in advance. Present these in a diplomatic way. For instance, if you have been made to feel stressed recently because communication between team members has broken down, it is more constructive to suggest brief, weekly meetings in which everyone shares progress made, rather than to complain that you are stressed because people aren’t talking to one another often enough.

Step 5: Boost your confidence
Following the practical suggestions contained in earlier modules, work on presenting yourself as a confident individual with good self-esteem. The principles of “fake it, until you make it” and the Facial Feedback Hypothesis, mean that by acting as though you are calm and confident, you will begin to feel more in control. This approach will also improve your chances of developing positive relationships with other people, which will reduce your stress levels.

Step 6: Try some practical stress-busting activities
Take exercise, talk to other people, journal, try yoga, do some deep breathing at your desk, or vent to a trusted friend or colleague, for a few minutes. Experiment - and see what works for you.

Step 7: Educate yourself further if necessary
Near the beginning of the course, we looked at the responsibilities of various players within a workplace. For instance, although everyone has a role to play in the prevention of workplace stress and burnout, the role of an employee is different to that of a CEO. If you are unsure as to your legal responsibilities, take the time to educate yourself and further your knowledge, if required. The HSE website is a useful resource – visit www.hse.gov.uk.

Activity
Work through the steps above and implement your own Personal Action Plan. Congratulate yourself for taking positive action that will lower your stress levels and lower your risk of burnout in the future!