Team development

Turning the tide of a workplace stress culture

At times, the demands of the workplace can feel close to overwhelming. That email must be sent today, those figures were wrong, that presentation wasn’t properly on brand, you forgot to call that client back, you’re late for a meeting, it’s time to run, you’ve got to collect the kids from school, you’ll have to log on once they’re in bed to make some last-minute changes to that big proposal.

Now transfer that feeling of constant pressure to the public sector and suddenly it all feels that much more critical. When you work on the frontlines of healthcare, there’s very little margin of error. Caregivers can’t forget or run out of time to get things done, or mistakenly get their figures wrong. Patients can’t wait for treatment - the next patient is already waiting to be seen, and they’re worried, in pain, and looking to you for the very best care they could ask for.

Incremental changes are important

Small wonder then that stress is threatening to overwhelm those who have chosen a career in the NHS. After all, when a quarter of NHS staff don’t take breaks, and an unbelievable 96% of them contribute an extra unpaid five hours of work each week, it’s not difficult to imagine that many of the people working in our national health service must be close to breaking point.

In fact, 38% of healthcare workers last year reported that they had felt unwell in the past year due to work-related stress – and, even more worryingly, over half of respondents said they had attended work when they were ill, due to pressure from their colleagues or manager – or even from themselves. This tidal wave of stress is costing the NHS close to £400 million each year.

So, what can the individual do to try to turn the tide of a stress culture? While it’s important to note that a lot of the fixes must come from the top down, there are also small, incremental changes that people can make in their own departments, offices and wards that can begin to reboot the culture from the bottom up – or the frontline back.

Create a different micro-culture

No one person is responsible for changing the culture of the fifth largest employer in the world; it’s clear that you’ve got quite enough on your plate already. But it is possible to make a personal commitment to creating a micro-culture in the place in which you work. Mental health can be balanced by having a culture of being open about stress, and accepting the truth when your employees find the courage to tell you that they’re struggling.

One example already in use is mood cards, where people are encouraged to choose the card with the face that most reflects their current mood; even done anonymously, a sea of frowns could be very instructive to a manager who is open to the real climate of their team.

With small, regular check-ins, keeping the channels of communication – and your door – open may be just enough to provide an outlet for those who are feeling the pressure.

Evaluate your everyday practices

We recently worked with NHS Gateshead, and what they did with the knowledge of colour energies that they took back to the workplace with them was quite fascinating. They realised that, during shifts on a busy and stressful ward, those with a strong Earth Green preference often felt overlooked, unheard and unappreciated. They tackled this by making sure that leaders with a more task-focused approach made the effort to check in with each nurse personally during the shift and the impact on morale was such that, over time, absenteeism was reduced from 40% down to 3%.

By evaluating long-held working practices, from the perspective of people with varying preferences, you can make sure that you’re filling the gaps that are leaving people feeling disillusioned by the end of the day.

Promote self-awareness

When people don’t understand their personal responses to change or stress, they are more likely to feel all at sea when events overtake them. By helping people understand their personal style at work, and how their preferences influence their response to stress, they can begin to feel in control of, and able to choose, how they respond and react in difficult moments.

For example, someone who has a deep level of self-understanding may know that their instinct in the face of stress is to become difficult and stubborn. By recognising when those heels are starting to dig in, they can give themselves some breathing room, and remind themselves that, if they remain open to the situation, they will be able to ride the waves that much more smoothly.

Whether you work in healthcare or any other industry, no individual, team or company is immune to workplace stress. By increasing the levels of self-awareness in your organisation, you can tackle individual responses to stress, and incrementally turn the tide of a stress culture. Talk to Insights today to find out how we can help you tackle the source of stress in your workplace.