Stress is built into us, as humans. It’s part of our flight/fight response and occurred when there was a threat to our survival. This response is why our ancestors survived through a world of sabre-tooth tigers, wolves, giant hyenas, and other man-eating predators.

However, these days, our stress is more likely to come from poor work-life balance instead of hungry super-predators.

In the 2016/17 Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index, 1 in 10 employees rated their current mental health as poor/very poor. Of these, 26 percent said it was due to problems at work and half said it was a combination of work and life.

Try some of these tips below to help manage stress and creating a great culture of wellbeing and care.

1. Flexible working

A poor work-life balance can lead to stress, which cost the UK economy almost £6.5bn in 2012. A flexible working environment lets employees work around any major stressors that come up in their life or work.

By being able to choose where and when to work, employees can be more productive, think creatively, and overall become a more positive workforce.

58 percent and 53 percent of employees believe they’ll be more motivated and productive if they worked outside the office, respectively, according to a 2017 flexible working survey.

“There’s a strong move in the UK, and especially in our industry, to offer flexible work options—work from home, split shifts, condensed workweeks—and we need to provide these options if we want to attract the best talent,” says Andrew Dacombe, Director of Colleague Systems at TalkTalk Telecom Group. “The ability to be a fully empowered employee outside the office was a key goal of Greater Place to Work.”

‘Greater place to work’ was an initiative to digitally transform TalkTalk’s workplace culture. By giving employees the tools to work creativity, collaboratively, and securely from anywhere, they were empowered to work the way they want, improving business productivity.

2. Great access, anywhere and everywhere

As we encourage a more flexible working style, we need our devices and software to match. An organisation that has multiple separate programs and tools reduces productivity as employees will have to jump between programs and remember multiple accounts.

Collaborative software will increase productivity, sharing and have simple account management. Office 365 gives employees the confidence they’ll have the right tools to stay connected and creative wherever they are, while platforms like Yammer, Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams encourages teams to stay connected with each other for collaborative work or contact via IM, group chat or video even when they aren’t in the same office.

“The real advantage of Microsoft Teams is that you’re more productive because you don’t have to constantly switch between productivity apps,” says Gary Walker, Head of People Digital Tools at Three. “With Microsoft Teams, it’s contextually evident when to use the different Office 365 services—Skype for Business Online to start a meeting, OneNote to organise meeting minutes, and SharePoint Online or Microsoft OneDrive for Business to save your document.”

3. Using these tools healthily

As technology grows, some people (particularly Gen Z) worry about the expectation of being ‘always on’ – a 24/7 digital workplace. This is something that will cause stress and a poor work-life balance in employees, or the increase of ‘presenteeism’ – working while sick or in other unproductive situations.

Encourage employees to take charge of their time, whether that be ensuring they switch off on the weekend/after 6pm or organising an on-call schedule to ensure different employees cover critical operations over holidays and still get a break.

By providing demos and explainers to understand how to use the tools smarter will help encourage productivity and collaborative working. The NEC Group did this when they implemented their digital transformation, hosting not only a launch event, but a ‘day in the life’ session for different teams, personalising the training for each team instead of a one-size approach.

“We didn’t just hold the launch and then leave people on their own,” says Claire Hawker, Learning and Development Consultant. “We are continuing to build on the information we provided those first two days, with user guides and online tools for our employees. The learning is ongoing.”

4. Taking the time for breaks

In much the same way organisations should encourage people to switch off when needed, it’s also important to encourage employees to take breaks during the workday. Encourage employees to take their lunchbreaks away from their desks so they can get a physical and mental break to recharge.

According to a 2015 Bupa study, less than 29 percent of workers take a lunch break. However, 52 percent say that skipping a lunch break puts them in a bad mood, with 40 percent saying it makes them feel unproductive in the afternoon.

By taking a full lunch break away from your desk, you will return refreshed and be more productive. Other good ideas to help reduce stress is to encourage short breaks throughout the day or walks outside to clear the mind.

Also, by encouraging employees to periodically block out time in their diary to focus on deep work or for self-improvement will empower your organisation from the ground up.

5. Take down the barriers

Encourage a collaborative work environment will foster supportive networks within and across teams.

A larger network will mean an employee has more people to call on for help, or if they get given a task, they’ll know if there is someone better suited.

Tools like Microsoft Teams not only foster collaborative working, but let employees have a full overview of projects, meaning they’re more empowered to reach out to others when they need help or support.

“By adding Microsoft Teams, we’ve definitely heightened global cross-brand collaboration. It provides the central heartbeat for our projects,” says Patience Wootton, Product Owner – Office 365 at Dentsu Aegis Network. “With minimal internal promotion and after just three months, we have 600 employees in 20 different digital and media brands working in Microsoft Teams collaboration hubs. Previously, brands tended to work in silos, but today, they have one space where they can coordinate deliverables for the same client with real-time chat, shared files, and OneNote notebooks.”

6. Create a safe culture

Even though stress and other mental health problems are the second biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK workforce, large organisations allocate an average of 11 percent of their budget to workplace wellbeing, with SME setting aside less than 0.5 percent.

Mental health and stress is becoming less of a taboo subject in society, however there is a fear it can still be seen as weak to admit stress. Only 49 percent of respondents to the Mind survey felt their employer supports their mental health, and only 41 percent felt their organisation was open about discussing mental health.

Despite this, 73 percent of line managers felt confident to support a team member experiencing issues. It is important to make sure your organisation has wellbeing plans, resources, and training for employees.

By creating a culture where people aren’t afraid to be themselves, talk about how they are feeling, and have the resources and managers who can help when needed, not only will employees be empowered to reach out when they need help, but they will support others when needed.

7. Identify workplace stress

Stress can be from situations that put pressure on us; such as the end of financial year, a big event, or anything where we have a lot to do or think about but not much control over what happens. It can also be our reaction to being placed under pressure, such as a short deadline, and we find the demands difficult to manage.

Stress can come from any parts of life and affect any other part of life. Stress from home can affect work and vice versa.

Stress can manifest mentally and physically and stop us from being as productive as we could be. A lack of productivity, concentration, irritability, feeling unwell, and not sleeping properly are all signs of stress.

It’s important to be able to self-identify when you are under stress or identify when someone else is under stress to be able to get support and use any resources needed.

8. Handling workplace stress

As much as we dream of it, we unfortunately can’t live 100 percent stress-free lives, after all, we’re not robots. However, we can take charge of the stress by dealing with pressure and developing resilience.

Identify the triggers

Sit back and look objectively at your workload and look at how you manage your time around them. This could include issues that come up regularly, one-off or on-going events. Sort these into three categories:

  • Those with a practical solution
  • Those that will get better with time
  • Those you can’t do anything about

Of the last two, try to let go of the worry around them. For those with a practical solution, figure out what the steps you need to take to get to the solution and work towards them.

Take charge

Don’t be afraid to say no. If you have a heavy workload, or are being tasked with too much, ask for help, or give the task to someone who has less on their plate. Use your network to reach out for support and help if needed.

Write a to-do list, setting small, achievable goals. A list will help you focus on what you need to prioritise while setting achievable goals will help you feel in control of the situation.

Balance your time

You won’t be a workplace hero for never taking your holidays or constantly working overtime. In fact, you may find you’re more unproductive and burn out quicker.

Take your breaks. As mentioned above, breaks are important to recharge. Occasionally you may find yourself working more hours to get something done, but make sure you gain back that time later to recover.

Figure out when you’re most productive and block off that time in your diary for deep work so you won’t get distracted by others. Try to work where you find you are most productive, whether that’s in the office or at home.

The future of wellbeing

These days we have Cortana and other bots to occasionally help us out when we request it. Soon, these bots will be actively helping us manage our day-to-day, so we can focus on our work instead of those pesky administrative tasks that take time.

In the future, you may not be spending a bulk of your morning answering meeting requests, reading through all your emails or organising your calendar. Your personal administration bot will automatically organise your day for you, flag important emails and figure out your diary.

It will, via your data and machine learning, figure out the best time for meetings or deep concentration. AI will work to your individual needs to increase your productivity and help reduce your stress levels by flagging when you may have taken on too much or have not enough time to focus on your work.

A future where we spend less time organising the things we should do and worrying about lack of time we have instead of just doing sounds like a future where we all can achieve more whilst keeping a great work-life balance.

Mental Health Awareness