Julia Bairstow is one of our experienced Sustainability Consultants who is able to successfully engage with stakeholders and increase their awareness of relevant sustainability issues. Like so many of us, Julia is often confronted with challenging situations and stress, so she has been looking into the different ways that we can deal with stress both in the workplace, and on an individual level .
A racing heart. Fatigue. Upset stomach. These are some of the symptoms I feel when I’m stressed, a feeling which many professionals are familiar with.
As a consultant, I am often confronted with challenging situations and stress is a common and normal emotional response to this. Moderate amounts of stress can enhance performance, motivation and resilience. However, elevated, or prolonged feelings of stress have a multitude of negative impacts on short and long term physical and mental health.
The recent death of Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching has turned the spotlight on the impacts of workplace stress on physical health, with alleged workplace bullying, and subsequent stress being suggested as a potential contributor to the Senator’s fatal heart attack (O'Neil, 2022). Chronic stress also has insidious impacts on performance in the workplace. Elevated employee stress levels have been observed to result in decreased productivity, impaired decision making and increased absenteeism and medical compensation expenditure (Colligan & Higgins, 2008; Daniel, 2019).
The links between stress levels and negative mental, physical and professional consequences are clear, but what can be done about it?
When stress has threatened to get the better of me, I’ve found benefit in mindfulness training and relaxation techniques. I know that managing my stress is just as important as looking after my diet and exercise but sometimes finding the time to do so can be challenging. When time is short, I find short meditations on apps like Headspace easy to incorporate into my routine, either before or after work.
Research defines three overarching ways in which stress can be effectively tackled in the workplace (Holman, Johnson, & O'Connor, 2018).
Primary measures aim to prevent stress from occurring in the first place.
Secondary measures centre around equipping employees with the skills to manage feelings of stress.
Tertiary measures are employed in situations where an employee is already experiencing debilitating levels of stress.
Perspektiv’s People & Culture Lead, Dan Irwin comments, “while secondary and tertiary approaches are important and can help employees manage stress, they leave the onus on the employee to manage it without tackling the root of the stress itself (Randall & Nielson, 2010). Primary interventions require significant organisational change at the top which can often be complex and challenging”.
Perspektiv are moving beyond tokenistic offerings in health & wellbeing and are conducting an audit of all activities in this space across the business using the ‘Thrive at Work’ framework, an initiative led by Curtin University alongside leading mental health bodies. This audit works across all the levels above and has already informed primary interventions we are undertaking to make sure stress in our workplace is minimal and managed safely.
Some of these actions include a truly flexible work policy to give employees autonomy over when and where they complete their work as well as redesigning the performance review and development cycles to make them more participative, learning-focused and frequent. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the importance of getting this right has never been more vital.
Akerstedt, T. (2006). Psychosocial stress and impaired sleep. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 493-501.
Colligan, T. W., & Higgins, E. M. (2008). Workplace Stress. Etiology and Consequences, 89-97.
Daniel, C. O. (2019). Effects of job stress on employee’s performance. International Journal of Business, Management and Social Research, 375-382.
Holman, D., Johnson, S., & O'Connor, E. (2018). Stress management interventions: Improving subjective psychological well-being in the workplace. In Handbook of Well-Being. DEF Publishers.
Khansari, D. N., Murgo, A. J., & Faith, R. E. (1990). Effects of stress on the immune system. Immunology Today.
Kivimäki, M., & Steptoe, A. (2018). Effects of stress on the development and progression of cardiovascular disease. Nature Reviews Cardiology.
O'Neil, A. (2022, March 21). Stress can cause heart attacks. Could tackling workplace bullying save lives? The Conversation.