How To Assist Stressed Employees – or Even Better, Prevent Stress

In my last stress at work blog I discussed some of the impacts stressed employees have on businesses, such as reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and higher turnover.

However, when I’m working with clients and I try to address the issue of stress, many employers are unsure how to identify the signs of stress, or don’t know how to prevent or assist an already stressed employee.

Preventing Stress

It is important to consider how stress and employee crisis may impact on your business and take steps to mitigate this impact by creating a positive and harmonious working environment.

Many companies have stress management plans or ‘work life balance’ philosophies in place. For those that don’t, here are some tips for preventing stress:

  • Discourage staff from regularly working overtime. Australians work amongst the longest hours in the world and excessive working hours can have a dramatic impact on stress levels. Set an example for your staff by showing them that this is not required or expected as the norm. Work smart, not long.
  • Acknowledge and reward extra effort. When projects may call for excessive hours, show staff you appreciate their extra effort through acknowledgement or incentives. Let them know when these hours are expected to scale down again so they know the ‘end date’ to work towards and reward them with some time off in lieu to recuperate during down time.
  • Provide access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or counsellor. Sometimes just having access to an impartial third party with whom they can confidentially discuss personal or work issues can make all the difference to staff members.
  • Place realistic expectations on your staff. Great staff have a fierce sense of loyalty toward their employer and I have heard many people say they are driving themselves hard because they don’t want to let their employer down. Eventually these staff ‘burn out’ and find employment elsewhere. You want to keep your good staff, so make sure you know the difference between productive and destructive pressure.

Signs of stress

Remember that often staff won’t come to you and tell you they are struggling; see my last blog on this subject.  Here are some key signs of stress to look out for:

  • Change in behaviour or dramatic mood swings at work
  • Snapping at colleagues over things that would not normally bother them
  • Working additional hours regularly
  • Higher than normal absenteeism
  • Reduced work quality
  • Inability to focus

Every individual will react differently to situations presented at work and home; their personality and other factors will determine how likely someone is to show signs of stress.

If you believe that a staff member may be stressed the first step is to open the lines of communication:  talk to them. Many staff feel they need to suffer in silence and that asking for help means they are a failure.

Their stress may be triggered by a recent personal event and exacerbated by work pressures. If you are aware of what their concerns are you can then start to make concessions or adjustments to assist them through this stressful period.

For example, a staff member suffering from an illness or a recent death in the family may appreciate having time off or reduced work responsibilities. You can’t prevent stress or crisis in staff’s personal lives but sometimes offering a helping hand to make work easier and allowing them to focus on what is troubling them can make all the difference.

I’ve spoken to dozens of staff members who have experienced stress and those who have been supported by their employers showed a great deal of appreciation and loyalty in return.

If you handle the situation well, it means not only can your staff member bounce back but the relationship between employer and employee is also strengthened.


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