How do you know if there’s a problem with individuals experiencing stress within your company? Stress amongst team members can often go unnoticed, especially within busy working environments as in many small businesses. It’s important to be able to identify the early signs of stress in employees so that you can intervene before the situation escalates.
Signs of Stress amongst Employees
As with anything, prevention is better than cure. Many business owners are often unaware of the early warning signs of workplace stress in their team. The first they hear about it may be when an individual is absent due to a stress related condition.
Paying attention to the behavioural changes of the people in your team can help you intervene early, before more serious problems develop. The following are some of the early warning behavioural signs that may help to identify work-related stress:
- Loss of motivation or commitment to the job
- Poor timekeeping or attendance record
- Presenteeism – working extra-long hours but with no significant effect on performance
- Uncharacteristic emotional displays such as angry outbursts or crying
- Withdrawal from general social contact at work – isolating self
- Increase in poor decision making or mistakes
- Avoidance – of either you or of additional work or responsibility
- Missing deadlines or poor planning of work
- Lack of engagement
The main point is to be observant of any changes to people’s behaviour. For example, someone in your team may normally be prone to occasional irritable outbursts when under pressure. However, if this person starts becoming more quiet and withdrawn then this indicates a change to their usual behaviour and would warrant investigation.
Causes of Workplace Stress
As a small business owner, it may be upsetting to hear that a member of your team is suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Being able to trace stress in the workplace back to the cause, and tackling these issues head on can help to minimise the negative impact on your team. The Health & Safety Executive has identified 6 main factors that can cause workplace stress if managed incorrectly1:
- Demands. This can manifest in the form of employees being unable to meet deadlines, or feeling overwhelmed with the amount of pressure being placed on them at work.
- Control. When someone feels that they are unable to control their own work, or the way that they carry out their work.
- Support. When employees feel that they aren’t receiving adequate support or information to be able to carry out their role.
- Relationships. Employees may be having difficulties with certain relationships at work. This can impact the psychological working environment due to things like verbal abuse and inappropriate behaviour.
- Role. When a member of the team doesn’t fully understand their responsibilities and what is required of them from their role.
- Change. Employees may feel disengaged when your business is undergoing change.
Risks of Stress to your Business
As well as the risk of employee absence, workplace stress can also have other effects on your business. Productivity amongst employees can be severely impacted by work-related stress. According to the HSE, 12.5 million working days were lost in 2016/17 due to stress, depression or anxiety2. As well as having a negative effect on productivity, stress can also have a big impact on morale within your team. This can manifest in the form of employees feeling disengaged with the company and the difference that their role makes.
One of the other risks that is associated with a member of the team suffering from workplace stress is that they may decide to leave the company altogether, meaning that you lose their expertise and the value that they bring to the business. Being able to identify that someone in your team is suffering from stress, and working with them to tackle the issue could therefore benefit both the individual and your business.
Managing Stress in the Workplace
As a small business owner, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of your team developing stress in the workplace. You could work towards effective stress management and improve the office culture and potential triggers by:
- Ensuring that all of your team are fully trained in how to carry out their tasks and responsibilities.
- Encouraging a culture of open dialogue with your employees so they feel comfortable discussing their issues.
- Assessing your team’s workstations to ensure that they are set up correctly.
- Letting your team have more control of their responsibilities at work and encouraging them to manage their own time.
- Conducting a wellbeing survey amongst your team to identify areas where employees feel that wellness could be improved.
- Developing a culture of wellbeing and ensuring that your team has a good work/life balance.
- Promote wellbeing initiatives and available resources
- Normalise pressure and use self-disclosure
It’s important for small business owners to be able to recognise the initial symptoms of stress within the workplace. Being able to identify any unusual emotional or behavioural changes within your team can help you to address any potential issues before they escalate. Implementing stress management measures throughout your business can also help to prevent any potential stress triggers before they develop.