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Getting to grips with work place stress and pressure

By partnersinhr, Sep 5 2017 11:43AM

Stress and pressure are often used interchangeably at work, but they actually mean quite different things. For managers looking to run a happy ship, understanding the differences between these two terms is key.

Ironically, you can experience pressure without feeling stressed. In fact, pressure can be a good thing! It gives us a kick up the backside, makes us feel invigorated and challenged, and can improve productivity or teamwork. A dose of pressure can even be a boredom buster, with some people thriving when the pressure is ramped up.

Pressure is usually associated with a sense of urgency to get something done. There could be a deadline looming, or a nagging pile of extra work needs tackling, or perhaps a troublesome client has got their hard-to-please hat on. Often, pressure can be tricky to avoid, such as during peak or busy times of business.

It's only if pressure becomes overwhelming, unmanageable or prolonged that it may manifest as stress. This is when pressure is no longer a good thing, so managers really need to listen up here. In fact, stress causes physical, mental or emotional strain, and can lead to anxiety, depression and other illnesses. Shockingly, if you're in a high-stress job, you're 22% more likely to suffer from a stroke.

Stress, on the other hand, has been defined by the UK Health and Safety Executive as: ‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.’ People become stressed when they feel they don’t have the resources they need (whether material, financial or emotional) to cope with these demands.

Good people management is the starting point for effective prevention of stress. The CIPD believe that people work more effectively within a participative management style and are better motivated when work satisfies economic, social and psychological needs. Employers that pay attention to job design and work organisation and equip all managers with people management skills will better support employee engagement.

It is important to think about a wellbeing strategy for your employees before stress starts to get on top of them. Ideally employers should approach stress management proactively, focusing on prevention and early intervention, not just responding when a problem becomes significant or when someone goes on sick leave. Stress also have the potential to affect other colleagues with a third of stressed employees admitting to yelling at their co-workers!

What's more, last year there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress in the UK, with the average person affected losing almost 24 days of work. Another study claims that almost half of UK workers know someone who has quit their job due to stress. However, losing employees to sick days can only increase pressure on those left in the office - creating a vicious cycle!

So, as a manager, you need to differentiate pressure from stress, if just to avoid a war breaking out in the office. This doesn't mean that bosses should shy away from exerting any pressure on their staff, but they should keep a beady eye on things, especially staff who take excessive sick days, which could be stress-induced.

It's good to talk, so regular communication with staff is key in managing stress and pressure at work. Give them room to voice their concerns if pressure starts to escalate. Ensure pressure is manageable for staff by monitoring them and how their behaviour is affected at times of high workload, but also remember that everyone has different thresholds.

If you want to nip excessive workplace pressure and stress in the bud, get in touch with Partners in HR.

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