Stress Awareness Month: Turning Talk into Action – Intelligent CIO

April is Stress Awareness month, a month designed to highlight the dangers of the modern stress epidemic. As Anne Tiedemann, SVP People & Investor Relations at Glasswall, said: “Stress is unavoidable and the workplace is often one of the most stressful environments that we experience. Research by the CIPD found that 79% of HR leaders surveyed reported stress-related absences in their organisation in 2020-21 – this rises to a staggering 91% in organisations with 250+ employees. This is a crisis that impacts all levels of a business, from those just starting out in entry-level roles, all the way up to the C-suite.”

With organisations struggling to retain workers in the face of the Great Resignation, this crisis is not something they can afford to ignore. Employers must take proactive steps to reduce staff stress or risk losing them. With that in mind, we spoke to nine business leaders to get their insights on what businesses can do to address the problem.

Making stress reduction a business priority

As employee wellbeing has risen up the corporate agenda following the pandemic, many organisations have begun to consider stress management. However, without drive from leadership, this can lack impact. It’s crucial that organisations looking to reduce stress actually implement new policies in order to make real change.

So what kinds of policies can actually make a difference? Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal, added: “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. Stress management training, that gives all staff the tools and techniques they need to help deal with stress, will also be beneficial as the workplace continues to evolve.”

Simon Crawley-Trice, CEO at Six Degrees, said: “This year, the theme of Stress Awareness Month is ‘community’ and as an organisation that recognises our people at the heart of everything we do, this is something that has truly resonated with us at Six Degrees. As we journey through the month of April, our qualified Mental Health First Aiders will host several initiatives across the business for both our employees and their line managers; raising awareness of the impact stress can have on an individual, providing them with tools that can support the management of stress and guiding leaders on successfully reducing stress within their teams.”

Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4, commented: “Here at Node4, we’re committed to looking after our employees’ mental wellbeing. Among an extensive array of well-being focused initiatives, we provide our employees with a 24/7/365 counselling service and access to qualified mental health first aiders. We encourage mindfulness exercise with organised yoga, pilates and meditation sessions and have a wellbeing centre focused on mind, finance, fitness and nutrition, including discounted gym memberships and a cycle to work scheme.”

Other policies that can make a genuine difference are highlighted by Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners. She suggests: “Giving employees options like mental health days – personal time off, no meeting days or discussion sessions on mindfulness or managing burnout.”

Offering flexibility

As well as specific policies, businesses should consider how a flexible approach can help to support staff wellbeing and reduce stress. “While many employees are keen to get out into the workplace again, they’re also typically less enthusiastic about returning full time, as some employers have been aiming towards,” said Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile.

“Pressuring your staff to return to an office full time – or simply more days than suits them anymore – can have a negative impact on their mental health, putting them under undue stress as they try to balance their new habits with a traditional working pattern. A recent Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum found that in the UK, only 27% of employees surveyed wanted to return to the office five days per week. Businesses can improve their employees’ quality of life both in and outside of work by implementing hybrid or flexible working policies.”

On the other hand, businesses must also actively address the feeling of isolation that flexible working can bring. “A lack of community can cause individuals to experience loneliness and social isolation, whereas a strong sense of community fosters a sense of togetherness, support and belonging,” added Ann Lloyd, VP of Customer Success & Experience at Axway. “At Axway we recognise the value of community in the workplace and how integral it is in combating stress. For this reason, we provide our employees with a number of support options. This includes our virtual ‘Coffee Chats’, which were born out of the pandemic to provide a space for the team to connect and have fun together. These sessions were so successful and enjoyed that we continue to have them even with offices reopening. We also offer an informal mentor scheme that provides an ongoing sense of connection and support for all employees.”

Recognising reality

In a world with growing skills gaps in many sectors, and staff shortages abounding, it’s important that businesses do not focus all of their energy on implementing policies to combat stress without recognising and addressing the causes of that stress.

Where possible, employers should look to find ways to support staff with their work, even if hiring more staff is not possible. For example, Simon Spring, Senior Account Director EMEA at WhereScape, said: “For IT teams, automation can make a real difference in giving them back time to focus on higher-value tasks, helping individuals streamline their work, working smarter rather than harder. Instead of spending hours fixing code manually, they are freed to listen to the needs of the business, focus on data modelling and extract valuable insights that will bring in more revenue. Automation technology can be the formula to unlocking innovation, rehumanising the workspace and tackling work-related stress head-on.”

Donnie MacColl, Director of EMEA Technical Services, HelpSystems, added: “In cybersecurity, there is no magic bullet; anyone who implies so is sorely mistaken. Cybercriminals are only getting savvier and finding new methods to infiltrate networks and wreak havoc. The role of a cyber security expert changes every day and is a never-ending back and forth between them and their adversaries. However, technology is helping and with the right arsenal of tools, services, and industry-leading expertise, we can relieve some of the stress put on security teams and provide them with the support they need.”

For some jobs, stress is inevitable, but Matt Rider, VP of Security Engineering EMEA at Exabeam, stated: “This stress awareness month, I want to encourage business leaders to check in with their valued security teams on an individual level. Acknowledge and validate, share advice and provide resources that can help and most importantly celebrate the wins.”

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