October 5, 2018
Earlier this year, The New York times reported on a company in New Zealand that reduced its employee’s work time to four days a week whilst paying them for five. The idea came to the CEO after he read research that showed that employees generally only spend three hours a day on actual productive work. The change was highly successful, employees were as productive over the four days as they were over the five but the wellbeing of employees improved dramatically.
The need to address employee wellbeing is something that employers are starting to wake up to and not a moment too soon. A report from Wrike that found that 94 percent of workers experience stress at work, and almost a third say their stress is high to unsustainably high. Over half of the people said that they lose sleep due to workplace stress and most were more likely to quit or seek professional help than confront their employer about their stress levels.
I’d like to say that these findings are alarming but, having worked with FTSE 100 companies and law firms, I am, sadly, rather familiar with the concept that workplace stress is very common and influences our lives outside of work. Many people suffer with lack of sleep as a result, which is so important for our mental and physical health. Our lives are so intertwined with work, largely because we are more connected than ever before – the Wrike report found that some employees have to use up to 16 different apps every day – which can make us feel frantic and disengaged.
A particularly disturbing finding in the Wrike report was that over 11% of people report work stress negatively impacting their home life every day. It is extremely concerning that so many employees are suffering outside of the office because of their work. The struggle is often that the workload is more than can be physically done, which leads people to over-work and still feel like they are failing. Often the way that workload is tasked out, managed and prioritised is either unclear, disorganised or unrealistic (sometimes, it is a combination of all these three things).
The good news is there are ways in which you as an employer or employee can help to manage yours and your colleagues’ workplace stress.
Clarify and simplify priorities
A good way to manage stress is to clarify and simplify your goals into less than five key priorities for the day. Focussing on what would have the biggest positive impact, or add the most value, can be a helpful way to distil your workload and focus your time and efforts.
Talk about it
Sometimes, just creating a space for people to talk about their mental wellbeing and their stress levels can help to feel that they’re being listened to. A good example of this in practice is digital agency Rocketmakers. It has a dedicated Slack channel to discussing mental wellbeing. People can say they feel burned out, stressed, or anything else and people come up with suggestions and thoughts.
Train your line managers
Research into mental wellness at work emphasises the disproportional impact that line managers have on employees. This had led many organisations such as the Bank of England to support their line managers to develop skills in identifying potential mental health problems and building their confidence to support employees. This has led to an improvement in employee’s view of their jobs and their organisations as well as an improvement in mental wellness.
Automate work management
Just as we expect other aspects of our work to be automated and organised, we should take this same approach and apply it to workload management. In my experience, collaboration and work management software can really help people focus, prioritise and therefore be less stressed at work. These systems provide automated templates for assigning tasks, creating deadlines and managing workload. What’s more, they’re transparent, meaning everyone knows how much work everyone else has got on, without them having to explain themselves. This allows for managers to dive in and see how much work each team member has on their plate, without having to ask them for a copy of their task list. Just this simple automation can go a long way to helping people manage their time, communicate more efficiently and delegate to other team members.
We can all sympathise with workplace stress. But as an employer, if you don’t try to help manage stress on behalf of your employees, you’re at real risk of losing them to another company that does.
Portia Hickey is chartered business psychologist. She co-developed Thrive Matters and advises Fortune and FTSE 100 companies on how to develop employees to have a resilient, high potential mindset.