How to Manage Stress at Work

How can you better address the experience of stress and work? Research shows that stress comes from many sources, but the cumulative effect can lead to chronic illness. Sane Australia reports that one in five Australians will experience some form of mental illness.

Many people manage stress in unhealthy ways because they don’t understand the resources available to them or because they don’t have a good support system in place, including at work. Social science can be used to better understand and improve corporate mental health programs.

The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey included a sample of over 2,000 people. The report finds people deal with stress poorly: 42% lie awake at night unable to sleep; 26% overeat or eat unhealthy foods; and 27% skip meals due to stress.


Changing Corporate Attitudes

Don't be afraid to talk about mental health.
Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health.

Creating safe spaces for people to discuss the impact of stress at work is pivotal to improving mental health at the community level.

Corporate culture stigmatises mental illness & risks executive liability. In 2012 Chartered Secretaries Australia conducted a study of 300 ASX listed companies & found that 40% of participants did not see mental health issues as a risk to their organisation. The study suggests corporate culture & policies need to change.

Sane Australia suggests it’s likely that mental illness may affect someone in your workplace. Fostering an environment where employees understand the support available to them is key to helping people manage their problem. Not talking about mental health can lead to stigma and shame. This can increase absenteeism, lower productivity and worst of all prolong your employees’ health issues. Have a program in place and make sure you discuss issues like managing stress and mental health. The key is to be proactive.

Happiness at work has a profound impact on health. Employee’s wellbeing in turn impacts on productivity and innovation. The American Psychological Association research finds that exercise is a useful way to improve wellbeing. But corporate culture also needs to strengthen its mental health policies and address work/life balance. One Belgian consultancy is working to reform work and healthcare. Rather than dictating how people should be looking after their health, it’s better to focus on people’s “strengths, hopes and aspirations and make changes that are going to be a benefit to them as caregivers…”

What Can Managers Do?

Stress at WorkI’ve previously discussed how meaningful work is important for psychological wellbeing. Mental wellbeing programs should be central to all businesses. Some organisations will hand out a pamphlet with a list of numbers that employees can call for mental health support and then never raise the issue again. Mental wellbeing requires ongoing awareness campaigns. What can you do as a manager or employer to better support mental health in your workplace?

Incorporate wellbeing programs as part of your workplace culture, rather than waiting for problems to arise. You might offer lunchtime seminars where you invite specialists to talk about mental health issues in an interesting and informative way. These don’t have to be sermons about the dangers of depression. Instead, they might focus on practical advice centred on case studies relevant to your industry.

Make mental health training a part of ongoing education within the workplace. Hire a consultant that can introduce useful concepts to provide your employees with a common vocabulary for discussing mental health. For example: What is emotion work and how does it relate to managing stress?  What is emotional intelligence and how can it help improve how we deal with interpersonal conflict?

You could also provide stronger access to advice by bringing in consultants regularly, letting all employees know that they can drop in or make appointments to see the specialist to talk in a safe and confidential way.

Lead by example: make use of such services and discuss the benefits they’ve made for you as a manager. De-stigmatising stress requires a collective effort. This will make individuals more aware about their options and help people find diverse support channels to manage their stress in more productive ways.

Over to you!

Do you see stress impacting your business? Have you got strategies in place for managing stress? Wondering how you can use social science in your workplace? Watch the video below to learn how you can work on improving mental wellbeing programs at your work.  Or write me for advice.

Post your questions in the comments section below!


Top photo:  bottled_void via Flickr.

  • Bilal

    What should employees do if the behaviour of the manager itself is the source of mental stress.

    • Hi Bilal, thanks for reading! Unfortunately, managers can sometimes contribute to incivility in the workplace. The first way to approach this would be to try to have a conversation with the manager if possible. Try some of the advice I gave in the previous comment, such as the “I am” statement. Mediation can be a big help – whether it’s asking another senior staff member you trust, or a union representative if the behaviour is especially disruptive. Good luck!

      • Bilal

        Thank u v much zuleyka for guiding me.