22nd October 2015
Whether you’re an employer or an employee, recognising signs and symptoms of stress might not be as easy as you think. Here are a few key facts about stress:
- Stress can be short-term or long-term.
- Stress can be intense or mild – long-lasting mild stress can have a bigger impact, in some cases, than short-lived intense stress.
- Everybody reacts differently to stress, though there are some common signs and symptoms.
- Stress can be caused by anything – even things that you wouldn’t have expected to cause it!
- It’s possible for someone to be stressed and not even realise it themselves.
- All parts of our lives are intertwined. Stress from a personal situation can carry over into work, and work stress can be taken home where it can affect families and relationships.
So, how do you identify stress symptoms and how should you deal with them appropriately?
Some of the Common Symptoms of Employee Stress
One of the most common symptoms of employee stress, but one that might not be noticed immediately, is a low energy level. This might start as being slightly more tired than usual, or finding it hard to concentrate at work, but more intense stress can lead to more notable signs and symptoms.
As an employer, you might identify a stressed employee if they’re repeatedly late because they’ve slept through their alarm. This might not be the age-old excuse and could be a genuine reason – people suffering with stress can be so tired that they simply can’t wake up in the morning. If you’re an employee and feel desperate for a nap, or you’re falling asleep on the job, could this be a sign of stress or are you simply staying up too late?
Headaches are another common symptom of stress, and thankfully one of the easiest signs to spot. Headaches typically raise a red flag, because they’re immediately noticeable if you’re suffering and are a clear sign that something is wrong.
You may think that you’re dealing with a physical illness – anything from a mild head cold to something much more severe that calls for a visit to the GP – but stress may be the underlying cause for the reason that you’re reaching for paracetamol.
Despite low energy levels being a common symptom of stress, many people find that they can’t sleep easily. Insomnia is another sign that you’re struggling. Some will find that the insomnia is clearly stress-related and will lie awake at night thinking through all of the things that are causing them to panic, whilst others can’t sleep and are unable to work out why.
Upset Stomach and Nausea
An upset stomach or feeling of nausea can also be attributed to stress, in some cases. The body is often under stress as much as the mind is – either because the cause of stress is physical, or the emotions are triggering a fight or flight response and creating an internal imbalance.
When we’re stressed, whether we realise it or not, our muscles tend to tense up. You might not notice that you’re physically tense, but will soon come to realise when your shoulders ache or you’re suffering from neck pain. These same physical symptoms may be caused by bad posture, but might be because you’re suffering from stress.
Long-term stress can lower the immune system’s ability to fight an illness. As a result, people suffering from stress may more frequently also suffer from cold and cough symptoms or other infections. An employer might identify this if they have an employee that is constantly saying how ill they feel, or has needed to take more than the average number of days off work.
Again, the employee might not have associated these signs with stress and may need an employer to point the possibility out!
Snappy Behaviour and Anger
If you’re stressed you might feel inexplicably angry or frustrated. An employer might identify a stressed employee if they behave in a snappy or sarcastic way, sound annoyed or seem prone to being over-emotional – they might cry when given constructive feedback, or seem panicked.
Is Stress a Big Deal?
Statistics show that 10.4 million working days are lost each year to stress, and other conditions such as depression and anxiety. The long-term effects of stress can include chest pains and blood pressure problems, as well as a variety of other symptoms and conditions that can have a considerable impact on the sufferer’s health. You might think of stress as being a psychological or emotional condition, but the impact on the body is significant.
How Can an Employer Reduce Employee Stress?
If you want to reduce employee stress then the first thing that you need to do is listen. Listen when employees are complaining about feeling ill or having a headache, and think about the possibility that they’re suffering from stress. This may be the case even if you don’t feel like they have anything to be stressed about – their workload might be manageable, but they may be struggling with an issue at home, or their workload might seem reasonable but could be too much for them to take on.
Once an employee’s stress is identified, listen if they want to tell you the cause and be sure to ask for their suggestions about how things can be improved. No two experiences are the same, so your employee is the best person to help you to find a solution.
Introduce a Wellness Programme
Mind and body wellbeing are important for reducing stress, and are things that you can influence for your employees. Consider striking up a deal with a local gym to offer reduced gym membership fees for your employees, or simply encourage people to go for a walk on their lunch break (or, to help even more, to take short walking breaks during their working day). Some actions might slightly reduce the amount of time that your employees are working for, but overall should increase productivity and lower the number of sick days that are taken.
Flexible working hours, or the opportunity to work from home either some or all of the time, can really help to reduce stress levels. You’re providing a guilty parent with priceless time that they can spend with their child before or after school, or you’re helping someone to be at home when they’ve called an emergency plumber.
Change the Working Environment
Is the working environment comfortable? Little things like plants and big things like the opportunity for privacy can make a big difference – ask your employees to contribute their own ideas about what would make them more comfortable.
Who you work with is as important as what you’re working on. As an employer you can foster friendships by providing social opportunities, team-building days and company nights out. People working amongst friends feel happier to start work each day, and will have someone to turn to if they’re struggling with their stress levels.