As April is Stress Awareness Month – 30 days dedicated to raising awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic – HRreview gathered insights from various industry experts to determine the reasons for ever-rising stress levels and understand what HR and business leaders can do to support their employees.

It is hard to deny that we are in the midst of a modern stress epidemic. In fact, Champion Health’s recent report shows that two-thirds of the UK workforce experience moderate to high levels of stress at work.

Although, as Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager UK & Ireland at Ergotron, explains, “‘stress’ means different things to different people, ‘awareness’ of it is still acutely lacking in many working environments. Challenges present themselves in different ways, whether it’s stress in mind or body, and most of the time they are not always obvious to the rest of us.”


The heaviness of hybrid work


With the whirlwind of the last two years that everyone has experienced, it is unsurprising that stress levels have soared, and mental health has deteriorated. “To call the events of the last two years stressful is nothing short of an understatement,” begins Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK.

“People in many professions navigated their way through unforeseen and difficult circumstances, which has inevitably taken its toll. With pressure to enable and support hybrid and remote working and keep businesses up and running no matter what, it is no surprise that finding time to look after mental health too often dropped down the priority list.”

As we adapt to life post-pandemic, it’s still important that employers are mindful of their employees’ mental health, whether returning to the office full-time, going completely remote or implementing hybrid working.

With more than 80 percent of employees adopting the latter working model, Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla, explains that “for many people, hybrid working can be stressful as the boundaries between work and home become blurred. Work worries are no longer left at the office — and the temptation to check in on emails or do a few extra tasks in the evening can be very powerful.”

Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners adds: “Today’s digital communication and collaboration tools make it difficult to switch off from work-related events that are constantly pinged directly to our devices. Employers need to get to grips fast with the issues facing home workers, who increasingly feel under pressure to be constantly available online – and to achieve more each day.”


Take a break and talk about it


In order to avoid workloads and stress levels becoming unmanageable, HR and business leaders should follow some – or ideally all – of the following advice.

“A key first step should be providing training for line managers, helping them identify the potential causes and signs of stress and effectively manage workloads to ensure that staff are not overwhelmed,” advises Ian Rawlings, AVP EMEA at SumTotal. “Stress management training, that gives all staff the tools and techniques they need to help deal with stress, will be beneficial as the workplace continues to evolve.”

Rob Shaw, SVP Global Sales at Fluent Commerce, adds: “employers should create a culture where employees are able to openly discuss their feelings without fear of repercussion. Sharing online resources, having dedicated chat platforms where concerns can be shared, or having a qualified Mental Health First Aider, all help to support employees and show you are dedicated to their wellbeing.”

However, reducing employee stress levels does not have to involve large investments in external resources or additional qualifications. “Small acts can make a big difference,” explains Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4.

“Whether it is simply asking how someone is and how their day is going or encouraging teams to take time for a regular coffee morning, employees should take breaks and have the opportunity to switch off from their day job for a few minutes. Especially where your people are predominantly “screen-focused”, make sure they take regular pit-stops throughout the day, taking five minutes between meetings or scheduling 45-minute, rather than hour-long, meetings to give time to mentally switch between tasks.”

Similarly, Anne Tiedemann, SVP People & Investor Relations at Glasswall advocates that “practising mindfulness is one way organisations can tackle workplace stress – it encourages us to obtain a balanced mental state by taking time out in our day to concentrate on the present moment. When employees take this time for themselves, even if it’s just five minutes a day, it helps them to reset their minds and let go of any stress that has built up.”

Aqilla’s Scantlebury concludes: “People are at their best when they are well-rested and aren’t permanently stressed. That’s something to remember every day, not just during Stress Awareness Month.”