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Dealing with stress in the workplace

A team’s mental welfare is critical to its success. Recognising the signs of stress and knowing how to help are important tools for managers.

Stress is a tricky thing to pin down. It’s not uncommon to hear people say they’re stressed when what they mean is they’re just really busy.

But real stress is a huge problem. It doesn’t just stop people from doing their jobs properly, it can be the source of major health issues. And to make matters more complicated, the signs of stress aren’t universal. It’s a very individual response and something managers have to be ready to approach with empathy.

Healthy organisations are tuned in to the signs of stress and can step in where necessary to limit its effects. Here are 10 signs of stress in your workforce and what you can do to help.

1. Absenteeism

Taking days off sick more often than they used to or coming up with unrealistic or vague reasons for taking time off are common signs of stress.

2. Illness

Point one above doesn’t necessarily mean that people are just thinking of ways to avoid coming in. Stress causes genuine physical illness. Sleep, digestive and heart problems are all commonly caused by stress.

3. Refusing to take time off

Confusingly, refusing to take leave and working long hours are also signs of stress. Feeling unable to hand over to someone else is both a cause and a sign of stress.

4. Change in mood

Stress affects people in different ways. Some become angry, others withdrawn. Recognising that someone is behaving out of character is a sign they might be stressed.

5. Change in appearance

As with mood, there’s no specific way this happens. Some become careless about how they look, others become very particular. Some will gain weight, others will lose it. It’s about looking out for a significant departure from usual habits.

6. Physical reactions

Low level, pernicious stress might not make someone look or behave differently in any significant way, at least not immediately. However, people in a high state of anxiety find it hard to hide their feelings. They may break out into a nervous sweat, stutter, gabble or be easily startled.

7. High turnover

A sign that your whole workplace environment is managing stress badly is if staff leave after a short period of time or more staff are leaving than used to.

8. Clumsy or prone to accidents

The phrase ‘can’t do right for doing wrong’ is a good example of what it’s like to try and operate under stress. Anxiety causes people to over-think and so they miss vital steps in a process because they focus on the worry rather than the task at hand.

9. Substance abuse

Turning to alcohol as a way of dealing with stress is very common and something fleet managers need to be vigilant of for very obvious reasons. But even if people aren’t getting directly behind the wheel, substance abuse of any kind, legal or otherwise, is something managers need to watch out for.

10. Bullying

Either as a way to deflect the problem or attention from the problem, bullying of other staff members is a response to stress. While it’s tempting to come down hard on workplace bullies, it’s important to try to understand its source. If stress is common in the organisation, bullying may become a cultural issue rather than an isolated case.

How you can help

  • Make an honest assessment of the working environment. Is it somehow encouraging stress? Are deadlines set fairly and tasks achievable? A lot of workplace stress comes from not feeling up to the task so training will help. It’s also good for the employee to have some control over the direction that training takes and to make sure that the outcomes of that training positively support them.
  • Encourage openness and approachability. In a state of stress it’s easy to lose perspective. In the employee’s mind the issue causing them stress is a sackable offence while to their manager it’s just about simple training or support.
  • Show you understand their stress isn’t ‘petty’ or out of proportion before trying to jump in with solutions. Some causes of stress, such as an anxious personality, can’t be fixed, only managed.
  • Provide tools. You could provide practical steps that are very relevant to day to day business such as more training or fewer deadlines, or organise help more tailored to the individual such as mindfulness sessions or stress management workshops. You may have to proactively drive awareness of this facility to the whole company. People suffering from stress are often unlikely to ask for help themselves, at least to begin with.
  • Encourage stress awareness. Some people may not even be aware that they are stressed. It may just be a source of curiosity to them that they’re perhaps not sleeping as well as they used to, their diet is getting worse and they’re progressively more annoyed by small things at work and at home. Encourage staff to take charge of their health and provide opportunities for regular health assessments, workshops or awareness sessions to help them recognise and get on top of any issues that are bothering them.

Managing employees stress is arguably one of the hardest parts of a fleet manager’s role. Recognising what causes anxiety in one person while less others unaffected is a skill that can only be learned on the job, but your response to your team’s stress levels is important as it can help improve staff retention, reduce absenteeism, and improve productivity.

Next: Are you stressed?

 

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