How do you know your staff are stressed? You're not a mind reader, and sometimes people will hide very well the fact that they're stressed, because that's their way of coping, or they don't want you to know, because it's a private thing, or are afraid it'll be seen as a sign of weakness or whatever. That is their prerogative of course, but as an employer/manager, you want to ensure that you offer support to staff suffering with stress, that you are aware as you can be, to pick up the signs that are there. There are a range of outward signs to look for, changes in behaviour for example. That means though that you have to know your staff in the first place to know what a change looks like. These signs may include reduced quality of work; indecisiveness and poor judgement; loss of sense of humour; more frequent minor illnesses; withdrawal; over-sensitivity; seeming jumpy or ill-at-ease; tiredness and irritability; increased sick leave; poor time-keeping; staff changing the pattern of their working days - perhaps by staying late or taking work home.
You should also look for signs of more widespread problems among groups of employees. For example low morale; arguments and disputes between staff; general absenteeism; more grievances and complaints; greater staff turnover.
What can you do if any of these symptoms are apparent? The first thing you can do is just sit down with your staff member, and have a word with them about it, in a confidential setting. It may well be that if they're stressed they don't want to talk about it, because it's personal, or because they think you'll perceive it as a sign of weakness. What you must do is to create an environment, a relationship in which the chances of them opening up are as good as they can be. This doesn't mean that they will speak up, but at least you will know that you've given them the opportunity to do so. You could suggest that they speak to another manager about things, if they would prefer. The larger companies will have the support of employee assistance programmes, with counsellors available for staff to speak to. You could point them in the direction of a stress coach or stress counsellor. You could even suggest speaking to their GP, if things are becoming particularly difficult.
The trick is obviously to minimise the chances of the above occurring in the first place. A good place to start is the HSE Management Standards for work-related stress. These cover the risk factors associated with the workplace. They provide guidelines as to what you can do to promote a healthy working environment. They cover the demands placed on staff; the control they have over the way they work; relationships at work (including promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour); how change is managed and communicated; whether people are clear about their role in the organisation and the suppport and encouragement they get from the organisation, line management and colleagues. If you can address these six areas, you are more likely to have a co-operative and contented workforce, and improved business performance. There is likely to be less stress around for staff and managers, and less conflict, and you will also be complying with the legislation/regulations relating to health and safety at work.
Get in touch if you'd like some support for your organisation with the above - Stress Management Plus are based in Reading, Berkshire, but we cover the whole of the UK. Here's a link with details of how we can support managers to prevent and manage stress.
If you want to know more about the HSE Management Standards, you can visit the HSE website here