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How can managers detect stress in their employees and make efforts to alleviate this problem?

Employee stress can prove to be a very costly problem for organisations — and this widespread issue appears to be getting worse by the year.

Between 2015 and 2016, there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress in the UK, resulting in 11.7 million lost working days. This equates to 23.9 days per case. When you consider the massive impact and the loss of productivity that can result from this number of working days, you can begin to understand why it is such a pressing performance management concern.

The first thing managers need to do is to keep an eye out for behaviours and symptoms that indicate a high level of stress in an employee. This can include the following:

  • A loss of motivation
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Social withdrawal from co-workers
  • Confusion and indecision
  • A general state of apathy
  • A lack of concentration
  • Procrastination
  • Poor memory
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Increased absenteeism, leaving work early or coming in late

If you notice a number of these qualities in your employees, or if you have been approached by a number of individuals complaining of high levels of stress, there are steps you can put in place to alleviate the situation and counteract the negative effects of stress. This will result in a happier, healthier workforce in the future.

Hold regular performance discussions and show your employees you’re listening

A lot of the time, stress and anxiety can arise when people think they have nobody to turn to or share their problems with. Your employees should know that when they are dealing with a demanding workload, unrealistic objectives, or if their home life is causing problems at work, they can come to you to discuss the situation.

Managers should incorporate regular performance management check-ins to give employees the chance to share what they are thinking and express their concerns. It isn’t always easy for employees to approach their managers, as they are worried about giving the impression that they can’t handle their jobs. But, when manager-employee meetings are more regular, trust and a meaningful conversation start to develop, meaning employees are more able to open up.

When employees voice concerns over certain workplace processes or their working hours, take their problems on board and work with them on solutions. In time, this will help to create a company culture that is accepting and understanding of employee stress. Your workforce will feel comfortable approaching their line managers when needed.

To help develop a trusting relationship, we recommend you have at least one monthly check-in with your employees. To track these check-ins and to keep HR updated, you can make use of cloud-based performance management software.

Performance management: give employees reasonable, clear SMART objectives

Where objectives are concerned, employees are likely to suffer from stress if goals are either unclear or unrealistic. If goals are vague, employees won’t know what they are doing at work and even the most ambitious individuals won’t be able to perform to standard. Impossible goals, on the other hand, will most likely lead to frustration, resentment, and burnout.

During your monthly check-ins, use your time to agree employee SMART objectives, progress and any issues that might be standing in the way of goal completion. Objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Using this system alongside a collaborative goal-setting process, employees will feel less overwhelmed and more confident with their ability to succeed.

Remember the importance of transparency at all times. Employees should know how their objectives feed into company goals. This will show your stressed employees that their efforts matter and enable them to focus.

At Clear Review, we have put together some instructions on how to write inspiring SMART objectives for millennials which will keep them engaged at work.

Stop micromanaging and embrace autonomy

When employees are stressed, it can be tremendously liberating for them to take work at their own pace, work hours that suit them and determine how they are going to approach their work. Such a flexible approach will result in them feeling less restricted and under pressure while giving them a sense of ownership and control that can really counteract their stress.

A little flexibility with regards to your performance management system can go a long way when it comes to stress. As long as it is compatible with your business and employees hit their targets, you should consider doing everything you can to grant your employees more autonomy. You might consider telecommuting options, flexi-time or even a job share. Such an approach can have a huge impact on work-life balance, which can make all the difference to an employee’s attitude and engagement levels at work.

Performance management: don’t fret over smartphone gaming

If you notice an employee taking another break from work and opening up a game on their smartphone, take a moment to consider the upsides. A recent study found that taking breaks and playing games on mobile devices can be a great way to combat workplace stress. This study revealed that employees who simply sat quietly, without stimuli, during their breaks were less engaged with work and suffered from more worrisome thoughts, while the participants who played a video game felt more refreshed following their breaks.

Managers should remember that employees need — and deserve — frequent breaks to help them recharge.

Encourage employees to take regular breaks and lunches away from their desks

Lunching at your desk is one of the worst things you can do for stress levels, as you aren’t really getting a genuine break from work. Your brain is still switched on and focused on the task at hand. What’s more, it has been shown that employees who take time away from their desks to get a breath of fresh air or to socialise with their colleagues have lower levels of stress and improved blood pressure levels.

Consider implementing a workplace rule requiring employees to step away from their desks for their lunch breaks. Going for a quick walk or venting frustrations with colleagues at the water cooler could go a long way to improving morale, productivity, and overall wellbeing.

To learn more about effective performance management techniques, download our free Performance Management eBook