Occupational stress is a huge concern across every business in Australia. Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces an estimated $10.9 billion per year. Broken down that’s $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims.
Every business should be diverting a significant amount of energy towards ensuring their workplace and culture is a healthy and happy environment for their employees. Happier employees mean increased productivity, less turnover and absenteeism.
There’s no time like the present to learn more about occupational stress and employee wellbeing to make sure you are doing everything in your power to help your employees. Let’s start from the beginning…
What is occupational stress?
Occupational stress is a term commonly used in the professional world. It refers to the ongoing and progressing stress an employee experiences due to the responsibilities, conditions, environment, or other pressures of the workplace.
Work-related stress can be a response to an employee being presented with work demands that are not matched to their knowledge or skillset. Occupational stress can occur in a wide range of work circumstances, often made worse when employees feel they have little support from supervisors and management.
Pressure in the workplace is unavoidable, due to the demands of the modern working world. And some work pressure, when deemed acceptable by an employee, can motivate them to work harder. But when the pressure builds and gets too much – that’s when your employee’s wellbeing could be at stake.
Major causes of occupational stress
Occupational stress can be caused by a wide range of different things. Some of the main examples of occupational stressors include:
- Strict workplace policies implemented by the business that make employees feel trapped
- Restricted possibilities and personal self-growth that make the employee feel like they can’t develop or grow within the business
- Conflicts amongst coworkers such as bullying, belittling and discriminative behaviour
- A lack of support from coworkers, managers and leaders; make sure none of your employees feel like they are alone. Employees shouldn’t feel like they have little to no occupational guidance
- Being overworked or having performance expectations that far surpass and employee’s training and abilities
- Regular threats of termination
- Loss of wages, pay cuts and benefits
No matter what the cause, the effects of occupational stress can be extremely damaging to an employees wellbeing, motivation and inspiration.
Signs to look out for
Always be vigilant with your employees, and look out for any signs that they are under occupational stress of any kind.
Some of the main telltale signs are;
- An employee who is lacking the motivation to complete basic tasks in their working day
- They are constantly missing deadlines; whether they’re important ones or BAU deadlines
- Employees displaying frequent feelings of general stress, chaos and confusion
- Physical signs such as anxiety, abnormally high blood pressure, noticeable changes in diet, sleeplessness and irritability
- Abnormal feeling of depressions amongst your worker; listen out for alarm bells ringing in conversations with them
- Inability to perform or communicate in a productive manner
- Feelings of excessive burnout
Even the smallest of changes in your employees can be a sign that they are being affected by occupational stress. In the wake of R U OK? campaign, we looked at eight tips for asking your colleagues if they are ok. Use this advice to approach your employees or co-workers when checking they are not overwhelmed with occupational stress.
Effects of occupational stress on your business
Occupational stress not only has devastating effects on the individual employee but also on your business. Having an employee going through occupational stress can lead to the following:
- Low productivity in the workplace; if the employee is feeling unmotivated to work to the best of their ability
- Job dissatisfaction, low morale and workplace conflict across the board
- Absenteeism in the employee
- Increase number of workers’ compensation claims
- Increased turnover in your employees
As you can see the effects on occupational stress and poor employee wellbeing can leave you with poor scores across the board in your business. This gives you even more of a reason to regularly check in with your employees.
If you ignore any major warning signs, you’re not only putting your employee at more risk of emotional damage – but you will end up making an even bigger impact on your business.
Check-in with your employees
Build an employee wellness strategy that ensures you are regularly checking in with your employees and setting up initiatives for them to make sure they are happy at work.
One way to make sure you are regularly checking in with your employees to monitor their stress levels is to send round regular employee happiness surveys to get a good understanding of how they are coping at work. Include questions about how they are dealing with their workload, if they enjoy coming to work in the mornings and if there’s anything that causes them stressor during the working week.
Tips on overcoming occupational stress
There are several ways employees can cope and deal with the signs and symptoms of work-related stress.
- Control your working deadlines. By maintaining a diligent, reasonable work pace, employees can prevent procrastination and consistently finish the tasks they begin. This means that they won’t feel overloaded, overworked or overwhelmed with the number of unfinished tasks they have left to do.
- Learn to push back. Often, people dealing with stress at work will take on too much and this makes the situation worse. Make sure your employees feel comfortable and confident enough to push back on tasks that they just don’t have the capacity to do. Employee wellness is linked to productivity at work, so you should aim to create an environment that promotes employee well-being at all times. A good place to start is by letting your employees feel comfortable in having an open conversation with you as a manager, leader or HR professional. It’s good for them to have a place where they can clarify what’s expected of them, ask for any necessary resources or support from other colleagues or enriching their job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks.
- Take a break. Make sure your employees are taking regular breaks and getting outside for some fresh air for at least 10 minutes in the day. It’s also important to that everyone takes the time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of occupational stress and burnout, humans need time to relax, destress and return to work with a fresh outlook and mindset. Switching off from work by having periods of time off, when you are neither engaging in work-related activities or thinking about work, is really important in making sure work-related stress doesn’t take over. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Your time off is important and should be valued.
- Track stressors. Make sure you are taking notes to identify which situations create the most stress and how you responded to that stress. Record any thoughts, feelings and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved. This will give you a better understanding of how you deal with certain situations and what you can do better in the future.
- Relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, regular exercise and mindfulness can help melt away work-related stress. Find what helps you relax and make sure you do it regularly. It’s your time to switch off and not think about the world of work for even just five minutes of the day.
- Ask for support. Accepting help from trusted friends, family or even other co-workers can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program (EAP). If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviour.
At Employment Hero, we take employee wellness and occupational stress very seriously. If you want more information on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, check out our on-demand webinar here.
Want to know more about employee wellbeing?
We surveyed over 6,000 employees in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and the UK to find out how businesses can best support their teams’ wellbeing.