What are the causes of stress?

The root cause of stress can be a work issue, personal issue or combination of both. In a large majority of cases Occupational Health report that an individual can cope extremely well with pressures at home or at work, but if the balance is lost, the employee will find it difficult to cope.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Robertson Cooper suggest that wellbeing can be attributed to 6 key areas (6 Essentials).

The 6 Essentials represent key aspects of working life that, when in place, enable well-being. However, when they are missing the opposite effect is seen and well-being is blocked. By breaking the workplace situation down into 6 areas, psychological well-being becomes more manageable and easier to tackle. Developing these areas creates the ideal environment for employees to embrace positive challenge and perform to the best of their ability. Get them wrong and they become “hindrance” pressures; things that chip away day after day and ultimately damage the wellbeing of the business. Of course, there’s only so far an organisation can go and employees also need to take responsibility for how they respond to their surroundings. The business has a responsibility to create the conditions for wellbeing to flourish, while employees have to play their role in ensuring the 6 Essentials are enablers of their own wellbeing and that of others – rather than creating blockers (Roberston Cooper, 2014).

The 6 essentials

The 6 essentials are used as a basis for the workplace risk assessment. Below is an explanation of each of the 6 areas and some general rules about each area.

Resources cover everything from specialist training, to IT equipment, right through to a new stapler! Communication is having adequate information about what’s going on in the organisation, and the local team.

Managers

  • DO use different methods of communication – a mixture of emails, meetings, forums, suggestion boxes, etc. will provide the opportunity for more people to feel informed and equipped.
  • DON’T just tell people – communication needs to go in both directions, so encourage and afford them the opportunity to take ownership of issues.

Individuals

  • DO take the initiative to ask the manager for information – when you show an interest you can be confident that he/she will communicate with you and the team once he/she is in a position to do so.
  • DON’T use email badly – ensure clear subject headings, provide dates for action and avoid a ‘cc culture’ whereby managers and colleagues are unnecessarily included in emails.

Control provides a sense of autonomy, and the chance to influence what, and how, work is done. People need to have a feeling of control if that’s how they prefer to work – but remember, it can’t be forced on to everyone as, contrary to popular belief, some people want it more than others.

Managers

  • DO delegate and involve effectively – not just the menial tasks, but offer people the chance to take on some genuine responsibility.
  • DON’T micro-manage – people need to feel they are trusted to do their jobs and if they aren’t meeting expectations feedback and personal development should be managed.

Individuals

  • DO take advantage of opportunities, such as appraisals, to discuss your role in-depth and collaborate on goals, targets and ways of working.
  • DON’T be afraid to share your ideas – if you’ve thought of an innovative approach, big or small, share it with your team or manager to make it happen. If you want more control – ask for it!

A balanced workload means not being faced by work overload or a negative work-life balance. For some people, this relates to leaving work on time because they have commitments to fulfil outside of work; whereas in certain organisations a heavy workload will be seen as an inevitable part of the role. What’s important in managing a balanced workload is to establish how troubled people are by the situation.

Managers

  • DO offer fair and flexible working wherever possible; and reassure people that it’s ok to use it – model the behaviours you want to see yourself.
  • DON’T be too supportive! This may sound strange, but it’s good for people to be set challenges, as long as they are achievable and they feel they can draw on support if needed. DO Use pressure positively!

Individuals

  • DO make time to prioritise – trying to do everything at once is impossible and will lead to more stress and possibly mistakes. And learn to say ‘no’ if you have to...or ‘yes, but not right now’.
  • DON’T miss opportunities to take respite – leave and lunch breaks need to be taken if you are to perform at your best. Work-life balance is a state of mind!

Some people embrace change, others recoil from it, but when our sense of job security is threatened it will be difficult for nearly all of us. While the situation can’t always be avoided, you can always ensure that you deal with it effectively.

Managers

  • DO communicate as much and as frequently as you can about the change. Even if the information is negative, employees would much rather know than be kept in the dark. Don’t worry about over communicating.
  • DON’T implement change for change’s sake – make sure that restructures and new processes are for the benefit of the company and the team. Consult with those who will be affected and explain how things will be better after the change. If you can’t, maybe it’s the wrong change!

Individuals

  • DO take advantage of your social support network and any support services your employers are offering.
  • DON’T assume the worst – even if your instinct is to resist, try to see change in a realistic and, if possible, positive light. It may seem difficult but bear in mind the long term benefits and opportunities. If you see the point of the change be part of it, don’t block it because you are married to how things are done now.

Work relationships are at their best when the interaction between colleagues is collaborative, but also stimulating and challenging – for example in the form of constructive debate and/or healthy competition within the team.

Managers

  • DO get to know your staff – individuals have different motivations and working styles, which may not be the same as your own, but are just as valid. Be alert to any changes in behaviour which could signal people aren’t coping.
  • DON’T inspire unhealthy competition – it’s good to reward success, but not to the extent that team work is abandoned in favour of individual ends.

Individuals

  • DO participate in team development activities – ‘organised fun’ is not everyone’s cup of tea, but deciding you won’t enjoy it ahead of time will probably create a self-fulfilling prophecy. By taking the initiative to get to know your colleagues (and your manager) you may discover there is much more to them than meets the eye.
  • DON’T respond in the heat of the moment if a colleague has done something that has aggrieved you. It can take a long time to undo the damage a hastily sent email can cause.

Job conditions are the things that add up to a sense of job satisfaction, as well as covering pay and benefits and bullying.

Managers

  • DO inspire your team – create a real vision of why you exist and how you fit into the organisation; paint the bigger picture so employees understand how their contribution makes a difference.
  • DON’T forget to say thank you – it might sound obvious, but it doesn’t happen enough. Reward doesn’t always have to be financial, a personal thanks and some recognition will be well appreciated – and is likely to be remembered the next time you want something done.

Individuals

  • DO remember what you enjoy about going to work – not just pay day! – whether that’s providing a valuable service, having fun with friendly colleagues, or an inspiring manager.
  • DON’T over-react – no job will feel great all the time, but if something doesn’t go your way make sure your evaluation of the situation is based on fact rather than just emotion. Try to see the other person’s point of view to understand why and how this has come about.