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Managing Work Place Stress

10 Feb 2020

Mairead McConnell

As an employer, what can you do to relieve the stress your staff face to get the best performance from them or, as an employee, how can you reduce stress in yourself and for your colleagues?

Do you tell the truth about how you feel at work?  When a colleague asks you “Did you have a nice weekend?” do you smile and say “yes thanks” or do you tell them “I actually didn’t sleep at all last night because I was so worried about what today would bring”?  It is no secret that mental health awareness is coming more to the fore in 2020 than ever before.  In Northern Ireland we have a severely high level of suicide, not to mention a high level of long-term work absence due to sickness.  

I recently attended the Manufacturing & Supply Chain Expo in Dublin, a fantastic event that offered great networking opportunities. In the midst of everyone running around to hear talks, make connections and learn more about their industry, I met Seamus Power, a lifestyle and behavioural change specialist from Powering Health and had an enlightening discussion about the issue of stress in the workplace.  Stress can come from many factors but jobs where there are tight deadlines to be met and high targets to achieve are becoming a much more common cause for stress in today’s marketplace.  While some people thrive in such demanding, fast paced environments, generally such reactionary, aggressive, deadline driven roles can result in extremely high levels of stress for others. 

Often, we may be feeling stressed, but we might not necessarily know or understand the reasons behind our moods.  I asked Seamus how we can recognise the symptoms of stress in ourselves and in our colleagues and he gave me the following advice:

Signs within yourself:

1.       You may constantly feel tired or know that you are not “running on all cylinders”

2.       You may find it difficult to get to sleep and wake up more often than normal during the night

3.       You may over-react to minor problems at work or at home, that usually wouldn’t impact you so negatively.

4.       You may lack motivation to complete what may be reasonably trivial tasks (procrastinating).

5.       You may feel overwhelmed and anxious or feel that you are in “way over your head”.

Signs in others:

1.       Noticeable mood swings

2.       A change in normal working patterns – e.g. arriving late to work or forgetting to do some of their duties when they were always reliable previously.

3.       May look tired and/or become withdrawn from general conversation

4.       Over-sensitive and overreacting to minor problems

5.       Skipping breaks and mealtimes

So now that we are aware of the signs, what can we do to avoid them happening?  Here are a few tips:

1.       Organise time to find a quiet space to just breathe (Slower and deeper than normal rhythmic breaths) at a specific time in the day that suits your schedule and embed this into your regular routine. 

2.       Become more aware of when you have increased levels of stress and develop the discipline to take action before these feelings take over.  Stop for two to three minutes and carry out deep breathing exercises to regain clarity.  If breathing doesn’t help, get up and walk away from your desk and repeat in a quiet space.  A short walk down the corridor could help you reset.

3.       Don’t sit at your desk for more than 90 minutes at a time.  Go for a walk or stretch out your limbs/body throughout the day.

4.       Get outside for fresh air and sunlight during the day, every day.  Getting a 30-minute brisk walk into your day will do wonders.

5.       Establish regular “me time” in your routine.  That could be time devoted to a hobby, sporting or other activity. 

It is important to recognise the signs of stress and act.  However, we must be able to adapt to cope with irregular, uncommon stressful situations.  With this in mind, it is advisable to develop an awareness of our stress threshold so that we know when to walk away and take a minute.  We all have a different threshold depending on the task at hand and this threshold is dynamic through our lifetimes.  Something that stresses us today may become normal for us over time (like driving a car) but new stressors may arise to take its place.  This is normal and learning to accept and cope with new stressors is an important life skill.

What can employers do to help their staff?

Brightwater works with several global companies and smaller SMEs who are introducing a variety of daily, weekly or monthly activities to increase awareness around stress, anxiety and depression and to offer solutions or safe spaces in order to help their employees cope.  Many of our clients have introduced flexible working hours to allow employees more time with their family, less time commuting and less stress around picking up children from day care and schools.  Something as simple as missing rush hour traffic could reduce stress levels for staff for the day.  We have also seen an increase in companies offering mental well-being anonymous helplines where staff can contact a professional at any time or their family can avail of the service to receive expert help in a time of crises or high emotional pressure. 

However, one of the most simple, high impact and cost-effective methods that companies can introduce is very simple:  Say a kind word, give a smile and a listening ear.  Words of praise and encouragement go a very long way in helping employees do their best work.  An executive level or senior manager level person taking ten minutes out of their day to talk to someone who looks overwhelmed can reduce that person’s stress and make them feel valued instantly.  A smile, a clap on the back or any expression of genuine appreciation (a simple thank you) all play a vital role in facilitating consistently high performance.  Better still, a team of engaged workplace wellness ambassadors can make a real difference in improving the culture of “how work gets done around here”. 


For more information on the global companies and SMEs we are currently recruiting for and who offer excellent soft benefits on top of salaries, please contact our Supply Chain & Logistics Specialist Mairead McConnell on 028 9032 5325 or email [email protected]