Associate Professor of Psychology in the Charles Sturt School of Psychology, Gene Hodgins, explores how this new landscape has impacted our work stress levels and how employers and employees can work together to improve the work environment.
Poor mental health costing workplaces millions
Every year in NSW alone, $3.2 billion is lost in workforce productivity due to poor mental health. This is the equivalent of a non-productive workforce of 29,100 full-time staff. The impact can be especially felt in regional and rural communities where the demand for qualified workers in essential industries outstrips supply.
Charles Sturt University has recently invested $600,000 into regional workplace wellbeing research by establishing a Regional Work and Organisational Resilience Research Group. This group will take a cross-disciplinary and evidenced-based approach to explore workplace wellbeing within different organisational settings with a focus on regional organisational resilience.
Stress in the workplace
Most jobs involve some level of stress. In moderate and healthy quantities, stress can be beneficial to our performance and resilience. However, when stress becomes excessive or chronic, it can cause significant problems for an individual's psychological and physical health, including increasing risk of anxiety and mood-related problems.
The impacts of stress
Stress can manifest through physical signs such as headaches, fatigue, agitation and sleep difficulties. Psychological signs of stress can be burnout, irritability, withdrawal from others, reduced concentration and memory difficulties. Behavioural effects of stress can include taking frequent leave from work, low productivity, making avoidable mistakes and drinking or smoking more than usual.
Tips for managing workplace stress
The responsibility of limiting stress in the workplace lies with both employers and employees. While organisations should have a policy for the management of employee mental health, optimal results will be achieved when there is genuine collaboration between the employer and employee.
ACTIONS EMPLOYERS CAN TAKE:
Create a culture of clear communication
When staff are clear on their role, responsibilities, and how to execute processes and tasks, this builds confidence and security. In turn, this often flows into improved work morale for individuals, both within and across teams. Effective communication on the day-to-day fundamentals, such as outlining clear and concise job descriptions provides a platform for staff to work off, reducing possible confusion and frustration due to ambiguity.
Monitor appropriate matching of staff skillsets with roles
Often after recruitment, the alignment of staff skillsets with specific roles is forgotten. Workplaces with good mental health practice appropriate staff selection, along with subsequent training and development. In turn, productivity and morale often improve due to nurturing skills that are naturally matched to future tasks, along with empowering employees when they feel growth and achievement within an area they are good at.
Encourage a culture of agility and an open-door policy
Employees and employers should have regular dialogue and flexibility when it comes to workloads and specific tasks. For example, work tasks should be redistributed if a workload becomes excessive, illustrating support for that employee while encouraging a two-way, ‘open-door’ policy for enhanced communication and trust between employer and employee.
Keeping your finger on the pulse with employees’ happiness and wellbeing can also ward off any issues before they arise.
Rectify physical issues within the work environment
Adjusting any problems with an employees’ physical environment can also make a big difference to wellbeing and productivity. For example, the use of ergonomics, reducing dust and noise and maintaining a comfortable temperature can optimise job performance and decrease fatigue.
ACTIONS EMPLOYEES CAN TAKE:
Promote proactive mental health management
Employees can adopt a proactive approach to managing their health and wellbeing. For example, staff can learn to identify the physical, psychological and behavioural signs of stress as they emerge. To address these signs of stress employees can also utilise skills such as relaxation, assertiveness, communication, physical fitness and time management.
Social and counselling support
Seeking social support at work should be encouraged. This enables individuals to acquire information on how to manage stress while benefiting from the support and encouragement of colleagues. Pairing up with a workmate to monitor one another’s stress can also reduce individual stigma while increasing a sense of camaraderie. Also, the use of counselling services offered by employee assistance programs should be promoted wherever possible.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Simple, age-old techniques will often serve to reduce stress on a daily basis. For example, taking frequent, brief breaks from work such as pouring a cup of tea or stepping outside for some air often allows staff to reset with a fresh mind and perspective upon resuming their duties. The mental and physical health benefits of practicing a healthy lifestyle cannot be overstated.
National Psychology Week 2021 is from Monday 29 November to Sunday 5 December, and a range of online resources are available on the Australian Psychology Society’s website. To access these, click here https://psychweek.org.au/. Take the time to look at these and contribute to your workplace wellbeing.