Millions of us around the U.K. face high levels of stress, which is harming our health and costing our businesses dearly. COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change, delivering highs and lows and serving up business leaders’ challenges and opportunities. Most of us were catapulted into the most significant working from home experiment to date, creating multiple stressors for everyone.
According to the HSE Labour Force Survey, 828,000 workers suffered work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2019/20. This equated to 17.9m working days lost and most likely reduced productivity levels, increased labour costs and poor customer service.
Stress is a problem. Dealing with stress is costly for all involved emotionally and financially. Ultimately, wellbeing matters.
April is Stress Awareness Month, providing an opportunity for us to look at the cause and cures for work-related stress. A recent study of 2000 British adults on stress concluded that 65% of people in the U.K. have felt more stressed since COVID-19.
More concerning is the fact only 23% of employees have felt “very well supported” during the pandemic, according to Achievers.com. When asked what would improve the way they felt, many said acknowledgement for their contributions, better work-life balance, and more support for health and wellbeing.
In business, we have a responsibility to ourselves and others to champion wellbeing and foster a positive working environment. With that in mind, I recently hosted a Twitter Chat for Business Buzz networking group on ‘wellbeing’ and asked experts from across my network for advice and tips to create a happier, healthier workforce and, therefore, more resilient businesses.
“Creating a culture and environment where people feel comfortable and safe to talk about stress and health issues is key,” says Alison Thomson, a Health, safety and wellbeing strategist and trainer. She believes managing stress and workplace wellbeing requires a multi-faceted approach adding, “Training people managers so they can recognise when issues are arising and have the knowledge and confidence to deal with these situations is essential. Managers should be able to guide their staff and point them in the right direction for support inside and outside the organisation.”
Sharon Smits from SYLO | Beyond HR says, “Stress can manifest itself in different ways. She advises, “Take notice of changes in your colleagues’ behaviour – are they acting out of character, more emotional or short-tempered, for example? These can be signs that something isn’t quite right.”
Gill Gayk of GMG Business Coaching agrees, “We need to be mindful of individual needs, be patient, kind and give everyone space and time to process changes, especially right now,” she says. Gill adds, “Underperformance, angry responses or silence and lack of interaction can all be signs that things are not right. Allowing everyone’s voice to be heard, creating an environment of trust, and giving individuals the opportunity to talk, privately if necessary, will help identify stress.”
Gill recommends, “Show you care about people. Demonstrate your interest by asking questions and listening. Allow everyone to contribute – share the good and the bad. Finally, make it NORMAL to take time out of the day to get fresh air, walk and talk.”
Emma McGregor, Commercial Director at Bloxham Mill Business Centre, suggests, “Think about the day ahead and plan your tasks and breaks accordingly. Try doing your online meetings and calls standing up and get some fresh air when you can.”
Sharon says, “Talk to each other, take a break at lunchtime, go for a walk if possible and be aware of your colleagues.”
Tim Crabtree of The Yard OX9, a brand new co-working space in Thame, suggests, “Regular breaks and get out for a walk if you can. Sit-stand desks can help keep you more alert and feel more energised, but also try to make use of available breakout areas or relaxed seating or eating places to break up the working day.”
Alison says, “Think about what it is you need to feel good and what negatively impacts on you. Then, consider the aspects you have control over, identify positive things you can change, and introduce them. Finally, Alison recommends, “Consider sharing with your colleagues or manager something that makes a positive difference to you, so they understand the change they are seeing or that you are asking for.”
Vashti Bedwell of Perch Co-working suggests, “Work out if you are an extrovert (need people around you to gain motivation) or introvert (prefer to be in your own space) – this will help determine what sort of working environment you need.” She adds, “Exercise – find something you enjoy doing and work out the time that suits you best to do it then diarise it. Take time out just for yourself, whether to read a book, go for a walk, or play Candy Crush! You don’t need to be “on it” 100% of the time.”
Vashti understands the impact a working environment can have on our mood and energy levels. “We’ve spent too long in dull offices, and it dulls your enthusiasm and creativity. Our focus for Perch was to create an inspiring space offering a home-from-home vibe to deliver a sense of familiarity, but also the right amount of stimulus,” she says. Vashti suggests, “Spaces need to be bright and cheerful with plants/greenery to give you the feeling the outdoors has come inside – use faux plants if you don’t have green fingers! Good Ventilation is important as is a comfortable chair set at the correct height for your desk – preferably adjustable to avoid back issues.”
Tim reviews the benefits of hybrid working and how co-working can help his article – How The Business Environment Has Changed. He says, “Hybrid working is likely to become the norm with reduced commuting and more opportunity to provide a better work-life balance. Tim adds, “Natural energising workspaces hugely impact on wellbeing. Co-working offers all the benefits of working from a properly fitted out office, but with the added flexibility of being able to work closer to home and at times that suit you – all of which can have a positive impact on your wellbeing.”
Emma believes that creating a positive and friendly atmosphere is paramount, “For many of us, we spend more time in the day with our colleagues than our loved ones, so it is important we feel supported to do our best,” she says.
“Being able to move around, mix and work with colleagues openly encourages conversations and sharing – the modern office must champion this.” Emma McGregor
Emma adds: “Here at Bloxham Mill, we are creating a forward-thinking business community that is ready for the demands of the workplace of the future. We understand that it is now more important than ever to be able to serve companies so that they can serve their employees.”
Sharon recommends, “As more employees return to work, try and put processes and procedures in place to ensure they feel safe and supported. Show them that you care about them. If they feel supported, they will work better.”
Graham Hill, a Customer Experience Specialist at Insight6says, “How people are feeling about returning to work is just as important as the measures we put in place to protect them. Often as employers, we assume we know the answers to many basic questions about our staff, workplace, or customers. But, you can’t know the answer until you ask the question, and that can sometimes lead to some surprising results.”
Insight6 has developed a Team Safety Checker in response to the pandemic as a quick and easy, instant feedback solution accessible to all levels of businesses.
Graham suggests, “As more of us prepare to return to the workplace, now could be a good time for employers to ask the critical questions – how are you, do you feel safe to return to work and what more can we do?”
Emma wrote an article on Why Promoting Your Staff’s Wellbeing Is Essential For Business Growth and believes the more engaged staff are, the more likely they will have a positive input. “When people are interested and passionate about what they do, the more productive they are, and retention in the workplace remains high, all of which helps the business excel,” she says.
Alison agrees, “When people feel that their organisation genuinely cares about their wellbeing, and demonstrates this by their interventions and support, the result will be much more engaged and productive people.”
Emma believes, “Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their place of work.” She justifies, “Businesses that take the health and wellbeing of their staff seriously can expect a better bottom line, as a result of less sick days and absences, better customer service and less time and money spent on human resources and recruitment.”
Gill, who works with business leaders to identify innovative solutions to help them take control of their business, explains the benefits of a happy and engaged workforce. “High performing individuals and teams are statistically proven to be more effective and go above and beyond to provide a better customer experience,” she says.
Gill rationalises, “If people enjoy working for you, they will stay, do a better job and tell others, keeping staff turnover to a minimum. Meaning you can focus on better serving your current customers rather than wasting resources and worrying about having to win over new ones.”
Vashti believes flexibility is critical but not often the focus. “The 9-5 doesn’t work for everyone, and employers, particularly in large corporates, need to appreciate that their employees may want to work more flexibly if possible,” she advises. Vashti adds, “Consider if staff can work from home more frequently or work locally in co-working centres if they don’t want to commute every day…Having a flexible work-life balance will lead to more positive and loyal employees. It is a win-win for all.”
With an increase in flexible working and more employers looking at offering a hybrid solution, i.e., a mix of remote and office-based, Alison believes we will have to consider the impact of us all spending more time online. “I think one of the big challenges for organisations, from now on, is digital wellbeing,” she suggests.
Tim says, “Ventilation and lighting might not be sexy subjects, but they impact our wellbeing. A lack of fresh air can stifle our productivity, and the absence of natural lighting can adversely affect our eyesight as well as our mood.” He adds. “If natural light is poor, then you need to make sure the artificial light is up to standard.”
Emma suggests inadequate or a lack of systems to effectively keep in touch with staff outside of the workplace may be more of an issue now many of us work from home.
“For independent business owners, it can be very lonely being in your own space all the time. Networking, like co-working, can help people feel better connected and part of a community,” says Vashti. Her husband and business partner Andy Bedwellcompares the benefits of co-working to networking in his article – How Choosing A Co-working Office Helps Your Business To Grow.
Vashti adds, “Networking offers an opportunity for people to increase their professional connections, which may lead to new business or potential collaborations. It’s a chance to meet like-minded individuals who may be experiencing similar business issues, a chance to step back from their own business, to reset and an enjoyable social break.”
Alison agrees: “For both individuals and businesses, a trusted, supportive community is essential. You may be your business, and it can be a lonely place. Being in a group where there are honest and supportive conversations, not selling and grandstanding is desirable.”
From a coaches’ perspective, Gill reminds us, “It is easy to become too internally focused, get stuck in a particular mindset and lose perspective, which can stall creativity,” she says. “Just like a good Business Coach can help you see the wood for the trees, having a great network of people and the opportunity to interact with peers helps lighten the mood and allows the opportunity to discuss thoughts and ideas and gain perspective,” advises Gill.
Lisa-Marie Mallier is the Founder of No Fluff Communications and a Regional Lead for the Business Buzz. She makes sure people and businesses are seen and heard through compelling communications and helps them to build strategic relationships that save them time and money on their marketing. No fluff. Pure strategic stuff.
fluff. Pure strategic stuff | Marketing Consultant | Regional Lead Business Buzz networking group