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What Stress Awareness Month Taught Us: How employers can manage and support employee stress levels and burnout

woman sat looking stressed

April marked Stress Awareness Month, a time where companies and individuals are encouraged to reflect on the areas of stress, how they can reduce undue stress, and how they can support others.

According to the TELUS health Mental Health Index in 2021, personal and workplace stress are impacting employees in equal measure, but more significantly, almost 1 in 2 employees are more sensitive to stress than they were prior to the pandemic. From 2020 to date, we have been going through extraordinary strain given change, isolation, and risk. And while many of the triggers for this have changed, the impact of the change remains, we are still more isolated than we were before, and we now have added strain related to the financial impact of inflation and borrowing rates.

With all of this, companies should seize the opportunity that Stress Awareness Month provides to look inwards at the wellbeing of their employees and how they can help.

This includes training – employees, especially managers should be trained on how to spot the signs of stress, so that they can help prevent or lessen the burden as soon as possible. Workplaces should also conduct team training, so that any concerns can be flagged promptly, avoiding the creation of any longer-term problems.

Effective Communication and Strategies

The first thing for a manager to do when they notice a change in an employee’s behaviour change is to have a conversation. The most important thing is to show that you are concerned because you want the best for the employee. Also, be specific about the changes that you have observed. This can help set the stage for honest recognition of the situation and prevent the denial and irritation that many come if the employee feels that your concerns are vague and unfounded.

When your employee understands that your intentions are to support them, then a conversation can begin about what that means. The first thing is to ask how you can help. It might mean reorganizing work demands for a period of time or it could result in positive problem-solving about how work is done on an ongoing basis.  

Managers can also be helpful by supporting the employee’s next step in self-care by recommending and describing the confidential services that are available through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Having information about the EAP from a manager who is in your corner is a powerful and positive motivator in taking the action needed.

An open and honest company culture is also a fundamental contributing aspect to the wellbeing of employees and stress levels and team members should feel comfortable discussing their concerns with their seniors. Without an open and honest culture, employees are likely to feel isolated, stigmatised and in turn, stuck in a cycle of stress as their workload piles up.  

Promoting Work-Life Balance and Managing Employee Stress

It’s important that employers ensure employees disconnect and use their annual leave to switch off. Managers should be actively booking annual leave and openly discussing the benefits of taking holidays to instil a more positive culture. Another effective way is by reminding employees how many days of annual leave they have left to book and encouraging them to request their days off.

If stress isn’t tackled, businesses risk losing employees as well as reducing the productivity of their current workforce. Stress can also manifest into physical effects and trigger long-term illnesses, therefore employers need to take action now.

Evaluate the wellbeing of your workforce, speak to colleagues about stress inducing factors and consider the offerings you have. Support is key but separate resources such as EAP counselling are vital to back this up.

By Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at TELUS Health

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