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How can HR teams prevent stress from occurring in workplaces?  

Common approaches dealing with workplace stress involve treating its symptoms. Solutions such as mindfulness sessions, wellbeing apps and resilience training are typical.

However, recent studies have identified a need to deal with the causes of stress in the workplace due to the limited impact that these reactive measures are having.  

Impressions of reactive wellbeing strategies can have a strong effect on the employee experience, and terms such as ‘wellbeing washing’ are becoming more common.

Direct and indirect costs of stress are significant. In addition, HR leaders are under increasing pressure to improve productivity and staff retention.

How to prevent cumulative stress in the workplace

Preventing stress 

So, how does an HR team go about preventing stress?

Preventing stress, rather than dealing with it after the fact, requires a different approach.

It is akin to engineering a machine guard to prevent worker injury rather than waiting for someone to get hurt and then calling a first aider.

Preventing stress requires a different skillset and mindset to practising these reactive stress management methods. And for the best results, it requires teamwork.  

Good prevention tactics require an organisation to have an in-depth understanding of its activities, by reviewing them with 'fresh eyes' which is having the ability to review the obvious.

Seeing the company environment and culture in a non-biased way, as well as factoring in how both internal and external elements have an impact on those areas, is crucial to gaining a rounded picture of what affects team members the most with regards to stress.

A stress risk assessment could transform the workplace

Stress profiling and assessment 

When reviewing these internal and external elements that impact stress, a stress profile can then be created.

This profile is a clear assessment of different issues the organisation faces after studying the elements that affect them, along with their impact on factors affecting stress.

Presented in a risk assessment format helps to clearly set out which of those issues cause the greatest impact.

Brainstorming issues and linking them as a team is a good method to start this process.   

HR teams working in businesses are best placed to lead this within the organisation because they understand employee interaction with internal mechanisms of the company.

Working in a group context, a team with varied backgrounds and roles contributing towards the exercise promotes a more robust outcome.

Following on from this, an assessment of the severity of each issue uncovered will help to identify the worst stressors affecting staff so that resource can be allocated towards resolving those areas.    


Root cause analysis and actions

When clarity on the highest priority items is determined in the assessment, conducting a thorough root cause analysis of the issues is essential.

This will help identify the most effective actions to take to eliminate or reduce the impact of the issues causing stress.

Even better results can be achieved by including an independent person as part of the team such as an individual from a completely different site or department to ask the obvious questions.

Workload revealed as top cause of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2021

Undertaking this kind of approach has a twofold benefit.

Firstly, it works well to support employees with the issues they face and that gives them confidence that their employer recognises what causes them stress and secondly, it can identify business process improvement which can have a significant positive productivity impact.   

Preventing stress by taking a structured approach in assessing the issues behind it and acting on those issues can deliver measurable results for employees and businesses.

Amanda Caldeira is founder of Caldeira Consulting