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HR leaders step up to combat stress in the workplace

04 November 2021

Story by
Sarah Rice, Editor and Director, The HR World

Reduce stress in the workplace

Stress. A word once commonly referred to in business only as an extreme reaction to external pressures – and in many cases was taken as a sign of weakness.

However, as the past 20 months can attest, the need to take this issue seriously for the sake of business resilience is a universal issue. As part of this year’s National Stress Awareness Day on Nov 3rd, we spoke with some of the UK’s top HRs in the country to reflect on things that have made a difference to the country’s workforce.

Across the UK HRDs have had to be agile, innovative and relentless in their support of both employees and business as we have navigated the impact of the Covid pandemic.

And stress management up and down the employee structure has played a major part in balancing the needs of industry with the individual needs of whole populations.

The stats speak for themselves, with research from Hays Technology claiming that two thirds (65%) of technology professionals alone saying the most negative impact was the blurring of the work-life balance and 25% claiming an increase in workload.

And for those who have worked from home, it has unquestionably been more difficult for people to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day.

So, what have been some of the solutions HRDs have looked at?

For Liz Jeffery, vice president of human resources at Sony Music UK, a multi-layered approach that was already in place pre-pandemic came into play for the wider benefit of workers in the company.

She said: “We are always experimenting to find new ways to make sure we are prioritising wellness in our company structure – not just as a passing concern that is only addressed reactively.

“With that in mind, in 2019, we collaborated with Mind to provide mandatory mental health awareness training for our managers, so they could have the tools they needed to support their teams.

“We have also incorporated wellbeing as a key factor in our objective-setting sessions and provided conversation guides that help managers lead these discussions confidently.

“This approach has allowed people across the company to set meaningful, achievable objectives that take their feelings and experiences into account.

“It’s vital for an individual’s wellbeing that they can bring their authentic selves to work.”

Competitive advantage

Recognising differences and an individual’s specific needs was the main focus for software solutions company Advanced.

Alex Arundale, chief people officer at Advanced, said: “One of the things we’ve learned from lockdown, when we all had a virtual window into each other’s homes, is that we are all different.

“Our lives, our experiences and the things that matter to each of us are what drives us and it’s that diversity that enriches the businesses we work for.

“But people can only be fully themselves in the workplace if they feel safe, accepted and welcomed there.

“Businesses that actively promote a diversity and inclusion policy and have a clear strategy about how to implement it are giving themselves a competitive edge.

“They recognise that employees who feel genuinely valued for who they are, and are properly rewarded for their work, demonstrate greater loyalty, are more likely to stay with the business, and are more effective and productive within their roles.

“We’ve used data collected for our recent Diversity Pay Gap Report to help us understand who is represented where in the business so we can take steps to promote more opportunities for everyone at all levels.

“In order to gain deeper insight we invite all employees to adopt the role of Diversity Leader and have set up employee resource groups, including Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ Team Rainbow, Women’s Network and Disability Inclusion Network.

“They help us to shape policy and strategies for increasing diversity. People are usually most committed to changes when they feel they have a stake in them and have some ownership over the solutions.

“Every business needs to look after their people and support them to manage their mental health. There is a duty of care you owe your staff.”

Encouraging open dialogue

Building resilience by encouraging a work/life balance was the mainstay of the approach taken at People Matters, alongside creating key signposting and encouraging open dialogue.

People Matters HR CEO, Neil Cope, said: “It makes business sense, when people are well, they are more productive and absence rates are reduced. If you look after your people, they look after your business and your clients.

“Encourage a work life balance, switch off that phone and laptop after working hours and don’t expect people to be available 24/7, encourage exercise.

“Train managers to support people in the business so team members are confident to speak to them if they have issues. Line managers should be able to listen to them and signpost them to Employment Assistance Schemes, GPs – whatever they might need.

“You should also seriously consider training someone to be a mental health first aider and publicise this. Importantly lead from the top and encourage people to talk about their mental health.

“All our clients are registered with Able Futures and Government scheme to support people to manage their mental health proactively and stay in work.”

National Stress Awareness Day is a sponsored event by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA), which is a registered charity promoting knowledge about stress, best practices for stress management, wellbeing and performance.



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