How to Manage Workplace Stress: 6 tips for HR managers

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21 July 2023

Stress is the natural human response to change or pressure: the heart beats faster, the muscles tense up, and digestion slows down. It’s perfect for coping with the task at hand – and then relaxing again afterwards.

Stress in the workplace, however, can quickly become destructive because it is chronic in most cases. If the causes of stress are present over a longer period of time, it can make people severely ill. Psychological and physical consequences lead to absenteeism and, not infrequently, to an inability to work at all.

As a HR manager, you should keep a close eye on the mental stress your employees are under and counter it in an effective manner. In this blog post, you’ll discover what to do in an emergency and which preventive measures can help to reduce stress levels.

The most common reasons for stress at work

The causes of stress vary from person to person. For some, a day full of meetings might be stressful, while others would thrive and perform at their best in such an environment. Nevertheless, there are some situations that trigger stress in almost everyone:

Lack of qualifications and excessive demands

“I can’t do it” – anyone who thinks like this is severely overwhelmed. Either the to-dos are too numerous or simply cannot be managed in the allotted time. However, the feeling of being overwhelmed is subjective: the phone rings, the email programme pings every five seconds all the while tasks just pile up on the desk. Poor qualifications or even a lack of qualifications for certain activities will intensify the feeling of being overwhelmed.

The pressure to perform

Performance pressure of any kind raises stress levels. Such pressure can be intrinsic due to inner convictions (“I can’t afford to make a mistake, or I’ll be fired!”) or external, for example, due to the high expectations of superiors. Pressure to perform ensures that work results no longer arise from joy and flow, but from exploiting an individual's resources.

Bullying and social conflicts

As highly social beings, humans suffer a great deal in the event of interpersonal conflict. In the workplace, employees want to feel comfortable with their colleagues and be appreciated. Indifference, resentment, or even targeted aggression make every workday a nightmare and can trigger a great deal of stress.

Poor working atmosphere

Without support from colleagues, a shared mission with unifying values, and a culture where mistakes are considered part and parcel of life, employees can never fully relax and unleash their full potential.

Unclear or unfair behaviour by managers

Managers and group leaders have a major influence on their employees’ perception of stress. If tasks are not prioritised in a meaningful way or if people in the company feel helpless in the hands of their unpredictable superiors, they will feel stressed at work.

Changes in the business

It’s in our genes to react to change with stress. In the workplace, this may even be a relatively minor change such as a new process or change of desk. It’s not uncommon for employees to end up massively stressed if they change their work environment, or if the company ends up being sold.

Faulty or insufficient work equipment and technology

In an ideal world, employees would readily have all the work tools they need to perform their tasks. However, if the internet is too slow, the booking software is constantly crashing or the headset that was ordered too long ago simply doesn’t get approved, this can cause both frustration and stress.

6 tips to combat stress in the workplace

  1. Focus on training and knowledge management: the more technical and methodical competence your employees have, the less stressful it will be for them to do their job

  2. Establish regular team building activities: during joint activities, the team will form an appreciative relationship network that will take the edge off many a stressful day

  3. Create the technical conditions for seamless workflows. Don’t skimp on the IT infrastructure and provide your team with sufficient, high-quality work resources

  4. Reduce distractions, potentially by introducing uninterrupted focus periods. Everyone should have the opportunity to work on their tasks without any interruptions. Create silent work areas for this purpose

  5. Give your team opportunities for sport and games: table football, a lounge corner or a weekly running club provide a refreshing balance to stress at work

  6. Provide institutionalised points of contact for stress: an internal or external body that focuses solely on employee mental health is an attractive point of contact for those affected

Proven strategies for dealing with stress in the workplace

Do you want to help your employees if they are stressed? If you do, it’s essential that you proceed in a planned and considered manner. Hectic action tends to worsen the situation for everyone involved rather than improving it. The following strategy has been tried and tested:

Ensure instant relaxation

This should be your first step when stress at work has already escalated to a point where there’s little to no room for manoeuvre. Certain reactions can be sure indicators of high stress levels: emotional outbursts, apathy, physical responses, significant changes in character and behaviour, and specific cries for help.

  • Only one thing will help in such cases: you have to take the pressure off immediately! Redistribute urgent tasks and encourage the stressed individual to take a break.

  • Give the affected person some time off. Send them home or to the doctor if it’s an emergency.

  • Communicate confidence and a willingness to help. Ask how you can provide tangible support.

  • Inform customers and colleagues.

  • Acknowledge past accomplishments and dedication in this stressful situation.

  • In less explosive situations, it often helps to reassess priorities together with the employee.

Address the situation openly and come up with solutions together

Before anything can be changed, you must first discuss the situation in an open and honest manner. Just as with a navigation device, you can’t calculate a new route until you know your starting position.

For this reason, you should bring together those affected, colleagues, superiors or maybe even the works council. In the best case, you should involve occupational psychologists. The first thing to do is listen, analyse the situation and convey understanding. Above all, you need to identify those who are most stressed in your workplace.

In the second step, you compile ideas for improvement. Teammates often know exactly what they need to create a more stress-free work environment. Make a step-by-step plan and set a deadline for when the first ideas will be implemented.

If possible, involve the people affected themselves. For stressed employees, it comes as a great relief when they see something happening and changing for the better. This way, they feel empowered rather than helpless. 

Introduce long-term prevention measure

It goes without saying that preventing stress in the first place is far better than good emergency care. You can achieve this by taking preventive measures as a HR manager.

  • Develop a feedback system through which employees can share their concerns, difficulties and worries without fear of negative consequences. It also makes sense to put a trusted person in place for each department.

  • Strengthen the working atmosphere: every investment in the working ambiance will pay off in the fight against stress. Communicate shared values that promote a positive atmosphere and friendly cooperation.

  • Practice change management: always accompany upcoming changes with comprehensive change management that supports people in the company on an emotional level.

  • Help employees help themselves: being relaxed even when the demands increase is a skill that needs to be learned. So, put appropriate arrangements in place, such as a meditation workshop or a free relaxation app?

In conclusion, HR managers must give mental health in their organisations top priority. Employee engagement, productivity, and general job satisfaction are all directly affected by their well-being. HR managers can create a more comfortable and effective team by creating a welcoming and inclusive work environment that recognises and resolves mental health concerns.

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