To any seasoned HR professional, it's unlikely to be a surprise that the British workforce are a pretty stressed-out bunch.
According to YouGov research, 52% of workers in Britain report feeling very or fairly stressed at work. Work is the most common cause of stress for Britons, surpassing both monetary stress and family stress. And stress about work is compounded by factors such as the cost of living crisis, with 71% of managers in one survey reporting that they saw evidence that the crisis was increasing their team members' stress.
With levels of work-related stress so high, it's important to be able to identify the tell-tale signs that your employees are stressed and in need of help. Here are some of the key indicators that stress levels are a problem in your workplace.
What is work-related stress?
Work stress, or work-related stress, is where individuals feel unable to cope with the pressures and demands of their work. According to the Health and Safety Executive, there are six key areas that contribute to work-related stress:
- Feeling unable to cope with the demands of a job and workload
- Not being able to control how you work
- Having insufficient information and support
- Being bullied or having difficulties with relationships at work
- Not understanding your role or responsibilities
- The organisation going through change
It's important to acknowledge that stress is a perfectly normal response to some situations. Stress is our body's response to pressure; a natural reaction to difficult or challenging situations which we have evolved to experience. In fact, stress can be beneficial to us in the right situation. For example, some amount of stress can enhance our physical and mental abilities, allowing us to rise to a challenge such as the 100m sprint or an exam.
However, prolonged stress over our work can be damaging to our wellbeing and damaging our productivity or performance, in turn creating a spiral of stress.
With this in mind, let's look at some of the tell-tale trends and behaviours that indicate employee stress.
Absenteeism is on the rise
One of the major indicators of workplace stress is absenteeism. Employees may call in sick frequently or simply fail to show up for their jobs.
Unfortunately, absenteeism can be a cause as well as a symptom of stress, creating a dangerous feedback loop. When employees call in sick because of the mental or physical symptoms of their stress, the amount of work they have to complete continues to pile up, potentially contributing to their increased stress further down the line.
Or, they may leave their work to their potentially equally stressed coworkers to complete. This contributes to more stress because of the amount of work that needs to be finished and can even cause bitterness or frustration between team members that can spill over into workplace conflict.
Additionally, employees can feel shame about their own absenteeism, worrying that they are going to be judged or reprimanded by their employer or HR. This can further contribute to a spiral of stress and anxiety that causes more absenteeism and sickness in the future.
Overall, it's clear that stress and absenteeism can create a dangerous positive feedback loop. For this reason, it's important that employers and human resources teams treat these employees with empathy, offering the support they need to get back on track. While repeated no-shows are obviously unacceptable, effective HR teams can notice the early risk factors of stress and absenteeism and intervene to ensure that it doesn't spiral out of control.
To keep an eye on absenteeism in the workforce, we recommend utilising the Bradford factor to proactively manage employee attendance and stress. To find out more, check out our blog What is the Bradford Factor and how can HR software help?
Productivity has plummeted
Another tell-tale sign of high workplace stress is a decline in productivity. This may be recognised on an individual level, such as when the quality of work of a usually competent employee starts to decline, or the number of tasks they complete in a day or week falls. This may also be noticed on a team or department level where deadlines start to be missed or sales numbers fall.
To identify a fall in productivity, it's important to track extensive and accurate data in the first place. For individual employees, this means up-to-date performance review records and contributions, whereas for whole teams, departments, or locations, key performance metrics can shed light on stress levels.
Because stress is often caused by employees feeling unable to manage their workloads, sometimes a reduced or better redistributed workload can help team members perform better. Paradoxically, by taking some of their tasks off their plates, you may be able to increase their productivity and quality of work overall.
Turnover is high
Another HR metric that can reveal high levels of stress is your turnover rate. While voluntary and involuntary turnover can occur for many reasons, a higher turnover rate in a particular team or department might point towards high stress levels that are affecting job satisfaction and morale. When employees do not feel motivated or engaged in their roles, they are more likely to look elsewhere.
Moreover, localised turnover may be associated with the stress of a particular team, manager, or work environment, raising red flags that need to be addressed by human resources as soon as possible. It's important that HR investigate the underlying issues of this turnover and take steps to manage the problem to ensure a happier workforce with a better retention rate.
Not only can high turnover contribute to further worker stress because of team members having to pick up the slack for colleagues who leave, but it can also damage company culture and lead to high hiring and training costs for the business.
Team members are complaining of physical symptoms
Chronic stress doesn't just cause emotional symptoms; it can also result in a range of unpleasant physical symptoms and health conditions. For example, employees dealing with high levels of stress may complain about frequent headaches, fatigue, trouble sleeping at night or sleeping too much. Other physical stress symptoms include muscle tension such as back and neck pain or even digestive problems.
While employees may not feel comfortable disclosing these physical signs of ill-health in front of coworkers, managers, or HR, it's important to look out for these because they can be a clear sign of work stress. One way to find out more about whether team members are dealing with these symptoms of work stress is by using anonymous surveys, allowing employees to share their anxieties and symptoms freely without worries about judgement.
Conflict has increased
Much like absenteeism, workplace conflict and stress are two interlinked factors that can affect and exacerbate each other. Poor mental health and unpleasant physical symptoms can lead to workers acting more irritable or combative than usual, contributing to disharmony within teams. In turn, these interpersonal problems can have a detrimental impact on wellbeing as individuals may feel isolated, misunderstood, or unappreciated by their coworkers.
It's no secret that our working relationships with colleagues are very important. In fact, colleagues are the people we spend most of our adult lives with, so conflict with these people can affect our mental health substantially. Thus, stressed workers can unintentionally cause more stress in a dangerous feedback loop that risks creating a toxic workplace culture.
Employees aren't going above and beyond
Finally, if your team just seems like their hearts aren't in it any more, this could be a key indicator of work-related stress. Maybe in the past employees used to go above and beyond for the business, embodied your company culture, and were happy to lend a hand wherever needed, but now they prefer to quietly complete their tasks and nothing more. This can be a sign of employees dealing with high levels of emotional stress which damages their desire to go above and beyond in the workplace.
You may also be interested in: What is 'quiet quitting' and what should HR be aware of?
Identifying and managing workplace stress using XCD software
For HR professionals trying to manage a stressed workforce and promote greater wellbeing at work, HR software with employee relations and powerful analytics capabilities is essential. The first step in the management of workplace stress is diagnosing it, and XCD software's AI-powered reporting and analytics capabilities are invaluable for this. With custom reports that can be configured to track key metrics such as absenteeism, the Bradford factor, performance data, and more, HR pros can gain visibility into the stress levels of the workforce at large.
However, the uses of XCD software for managing stress levels do not end there. XCD's employee relations features offer a wealth of resources for supporting the wellbeing of the team. For example, custom company dashboards create a sense of belonging and are a central source of information and resources for tackling employee stress. Powerful onboarding features provide a great introduction to the company for new hires, ensuring that they understand and feel prepared for the demands of their role, while performance management capabilities help human resources teams support employees' performance at work.
Finally, XCD's appreciation software helps ensure that employees feel valued and recognised in their work, helping fight the stress and anxiety that they might be feeling. This is a key element of employee relations, championing that all-important 'human touch' that HR requires.
Are you interested in trying XCD software for yourself? Book a demo today to find out more about how our powerful employee relations tools can help you identify and manage your workers' stress levels.