• Katie Bastiman

Awareness and Management of Workplace Stress

April is Stress Awareness Month, originally designed to raise awareness of workplace stress. It has been held every April since 1992 “to raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic”, making this year its 30th anniversary. The theme for this year’s Stress Awareness Month is “Community”, which is particularly pertinent as we emerge from COVID restrictions and are able to reconnect with friends, family, and colleagues in person.

Awareness and Resources Stress Awareness Month is a good opportunity to open up and amplify the conversation about stress management and mental health in the workplace. With resources and insights being shared by local organisations like The Listening Lounge , large publications like Forbes, and companies like the British Safety Council, there is plenty of information being posted.

One such channel confronting these topics is Lighten the Load, a series of podcasts created by the Government of Jersey. Each episode consists of an interview conducted by mental health practitioner Lee Bennett, and the discussions highlight the importance of understanding and tackling stress in order to protect one’s health, and the ultimate crucial benefits that a change in lifestyle can bring, among other topics. There are three episodes in total, each comprised of an interview with a different individual offering a unique perspective.

When looking for info relating to the comms industry in particular, the CIPR website has a useful page dedicated to mental health. It includes links to organisations like Mind, the NHS, and the Mental Health Foundation, as well as pertinent information and statistics. For instance, drawing from the CIPR’s annual ‘State of the Profession’ report, they indicate that around ‘a quarter (23%) of PR professionals say they have taken sickness absence from work on the grounds of stress, anxiety or depression’.

According to mentalhealth.org.uk, 12.7% of all sickness days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, and a whitepaper available from the Stress Management Society comments that “one of the biggest ways that we can help is through reducing the stigma and taboo that is often associated with mental health”.

Hybrid Working

While it is likely that we could all make lifestyle changes to counteract stress, certain changes over the last few years have been more of a requirement. For instance, the shift in what it means to ‘go to work’, due to the pandemic, has resulted in our daily routines looking very different than they used to.


The ways in which we interact with colleagues have changed since the introduction of remote working, as have the boundaries between work and home. Some have welcomed this change for a range of reasons, including avoiding long commutes or time spent in traffic, and no longer needing to code-switch due to being in the office. Code-switching is defined as “changing one’s behaviour, appearance, or speech to fit into the dominant culture” by the Harvard Business Review and is examined in more detail in this article.


On the other hand, others have found remote work extremely challenging, for instance due to a lack of suitable workspace at home, the relatively new phenomenon of “Zoom fatigue”, or missing the social interaction of a shared office.


We put out a survey to ask our colleagues and peers, ‘How do you feel that hybrid working has impacted your stress levels?’


At 50%, the most popular answer was ‘My stress levels are lower’, followed by the opposite view, ‘My stress levels are higher’, with 38%. Only 13% felt that their stress levels were the same in relation to pre-hybrid working.


What can we take from this? Hybrid working clearly suits some better than others, and, of course, variables like one’s sector and level of superiority within an organisation will influence the impact of hybrid working for each of us.


Evidence suggests that, at least to an extent, hybrid working is here to stay, although what precisely that will look like for each of us will vary. Hopefully we can collectively move towards a balanced solution, which allows for the flexibility of hybrid working whilst also providing more of the human connection between colleagues than can be achieved through full-time remote work.



Conclusions

We each have our own responses to stress, and these can change over time, meaning it is important to learn what works for us. On an individual level, it is worth the investment in your health and happiness to check in on your work-life balance and make sure that you are making time for yourself.


In the work environment, making choices to combat stress may look slightly different, but putting in the time and effort, and having the necessary conversations to identify any issues and work towards solutions will put you in a stronger position in the future.


There is also a certain level of responsibility that employers and organisations must acknowledge in combating stress in the workplace. Whilst ideas like providing healthy snacks and lunchtime activities such as office yoga or massage sessions are often appreciated by employees, they are simply fleeting gestures if not backed up by a company culture that looks after staff wellbeing – a fruit bowl can only mean so much if everyone is expected to sacrifice their personal lives and their downtime in favour of work.


As this Microsoft survey report demonstrates, 41% of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notice. A company which prioritises the mental and physical health of its employees is arguably much more likely to be able to retain them, meaning that organisations need to ensure that they have considered these issues.


Hopefully, Stress Awareness Month will be the perfect reminder.

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