Stress is, unfortunately, part and parcel of working life – but there are steps you as an HR professional can take to mitigate its impact on the employees in your organisation and reduce the amount of stress they face at work.
Here, we look at the prevalence of workplace stress in the UK and offer seven ways HR teams can manage stress in the workplace – from having the right HR software to fostering a positive culture.
How significant is stress in the workplace?
The short answer is: very.
In 2023 we polled 256 people in senior management positions, finding that 98% of respondents were stressed by at least one thing at work. Top causes of stress in general included the cost-of-living crisis, high inflation/rising prices, exhaustion/workplace burnout, economic downturn/recession, and workload/to-do lists.
And it’s not just senior managers who are stressed; research we conducted back in September 2021 revealed that work is one of the biggest causes of stress in the UK for those not in leadership positions as well, with 79% of British adults admitting that they feel stressed at least once a month. The majority (84%) of these respondents said that work was to blame in some way. Failing to get enough sleep, money worries, health concerns and family problems were all cited as additional stressors that affected employees’ productivity and happiness at work.
Meanwhile, a separate study found that more than half (54%) of workers frequently arrive at work already feeling stressed, with 45% blaming their daily commute for their pre-work stress.
How can employers reduce stress in the workplace?
The above stats may seem worrying – but luckily, there are lots of solutions employers can put in place to alleviate workplace stress. But the success of these solutions rest on having in place a capable, experienced HR team that has the capacity to promote stress-reduction activities, and help line managers mitigate employees’ stress levels.
Below are seven recommendations for HR professionals to put in place to help manage employee stress in the workplace.
1. Have the right tools in place
Implementing the right HR software can significantly enhance the effectiveness of HR professionals trying to manage employee stress within the workplace. Software such as Ciphr HR offers streamlined processes for employee data management, leave requests, performance evaluations and more. This automation reduces the administrative burden on HR teams, allowing them to allocate more time and resources to improving employee wellbeing.
HR software often includes features like real-time analytics and reporting, enabling HR professionals to identify stress triggers, patterns, and areas of concern swiftly. By having actionable insights at their fingertips, HR can proactively address stress factors within the organisation, implementing targeted interventions and support mechanisms.
Ciphr HR, for example, features a sentiment analysis. Once a week, when employees log in, a row of faces pop up, with expressions ranging from very sad to very happy. Employees then have the option to select how they’re feeling that week. Our HR team monitors this and, if anyone selects one of the sad faces, they’ll reach out to that person to see how they’re doing.
“Our sentiment flags are a quick and confidential way for our colleagues to inform us that they need extra support or a check in, as they know a member of the people team will contact them in the event they submit a bad or very bad sentiment flag,” said our people coordinator Megan Sharpe.
Our head of people operations Gwenan West agreed, adding, “Sentiment flags are useful indications of employee wellbeing. They can be tracked and reported on at a board level and give the people team firm data to support and guide our wellbeing strategy.”
Self-service features in HR software like Ciphr empower employees to access resources, seek assistance and manage their own schedules, fostering a sense of control and reducing stress associated with administrative processes.
2. Encourage a healthy work-life balance
By promoting reasonable work hours and encouraging the use of paid time off (PTO), HR enables employees to disconnect and recharge, ultimately reducing burnout and stress. For instance, HR can actively endorse taking short breaks and full lunches during the workday to ensure employees have time to rest and rejuvenate. Ciphr HR also helps with this – reminders about outstanding holiday balances are sent to both employees and line managers, ensuring no time is lost.
Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote working options or adjusted schedules, accommodates personal commitments and helps employees manage their work and personal responsibilities more effectively. Here at Ciphr, for example, many of our employees take advantage of flexible working – whether that be working from home, part-time, flexi-time or something else.
HR can lead by example, setting clear boundaries for after-hours communication and respecting employees’ personal time, demonstrating the organisation’s commitment to fostering a healthy work-life balance. They should also be modelling these sorts of behaviours – for example, by not responding to emails or instant messages outside of organisational hours and including their working hours in their email signatures.
3. Promote physical wellbeing
Encouraging physical activity through initiatives like onsite fitness facilities, subsidised gym memberships or wellness challenges can enhance employees’ physical health. Regular exercise has been proven to alleviate stress by releasing endorphins and improving overall mood.
HR can organise wellness workshops that educate employees about the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, covering topics like nutrition, exercise routines and stress-reducing activities. By fostering a culture of physical wellbeing, HR teams motivate employees to prioritise their health, leading to reduced stress levels and increased resilience in handling workplace pressures. This not only contributes to a healthier and happier workforce but also boosts productivity and engagement.
Here at Ciphr, for example, we offer a variety of initiatives that promote physical wellbeing, including a cycle to work scheme, gym loans, family National Trust membership and medical, dental and flu vaccine cover.
“We have been working hard to encourage a better work-life balance and promote physical and mental wellbeing,” said West. “Last year, we introduced free family National Trust memberships for all employees. This has been become one of our most popular offerings, with over 50% of our employees enjoying this benefit.”
4. Prioritise mental health and accommodate neurodivergent employees
HR should work to foster an inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing mental health concerns and neurodivergent conditions. They can also offer employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which provide employees with access to mental health professionals and resources to help manage personal and work-related stressors – this is something we do here at Ciphr and we have received lots of positive feedback.
“As part of my role as a people advisor at Ciphr, suggesting employees utilise our EAP is an extra resource when supporting them with a range of concerns,” shared Katie Allen. “The partnership with an EAP allows for mental health experts to gain a better understanding of individuals’ concerns and share tools that can be used. Colleagues have said that they appreciate having the ability to get confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Encouraging open dialogue reduces stigma and allows HR to provide necessary accommodations and support. For example, offering flexible work hours, quiet spaces or allowing remote work for employees with anxiety or autism spectrum disorders can alleviate workplace stress.
Further reading: How to open up about neurodiversity at work.
HR can also organise mental health awareness campaigns, seminars or workshops to educate employees and managers on recognising signs of mental health challenges and understanding the diverse needs of neurodivergent individuals.
5. Assist with financial literacy
By providing resources, workshops or access to financial advisors, HR can help employees better manage their finances, reducing the financial stress that often translates into workplace anxiety.
For instance, here at Ciphr, we partner with financial experts to offer free mortgage advice services, helping employees navigate the complex process of home buying and mortgage management.
“We were pleased to be able to provide this benefit as we felt that this was something that could support all our employees, regardless of demographics – especially in the current climate where increasing mortgage costs are affecting so many of us,” said West. “Every little thing we can do to support our colleagues with the cost of living is worth the effort it takes to find benefits like this.”
Additionally, organising seminars on budgeting, investing or debt management equips employees with the knowledge and tools to make informed financial decisions, ultimately reducing financial worries.
6. Establish clear communication channels
Transparent and accessible communication fosters an environment where employees feel heard, valued and supported. HR can implement regular team meetings, suggestion boxes or anonymous surveys to encourage open dialogue. For instance, they can organise town hall meetings where employees can voice concerns and ask questions – we do this here at Ciphr with a monthly company-wide meeting.
HR can also provide platforms for employees to communicate directly with management, ensuring their thoughts and ideas are acknowledged. By facilitating effective communication and addressing concerns promptly, HR helps reduce uncertainty and anxiety, creating a more harmonious and less stressful work environment for employees.
7. Foster a positive workplace culture
A positive culture cultivates an environment of trust, collaboration and mutual respect, providing a strong foundation for employee wellbeing. HR can organise team-building events, encourage social interactions and promote open communication to enhance employee relationships and job satisfaction. For instance, team lunches, themed dress-up days or volunteering opportunities not only encourage bonding but also alleviate work-related stress by allowing employees to step away from their regular tasks and enjoy a lighter atmosphere.
Additionally, recognising and celebrating employees’ achievements, milestones or birthdays demonstrates appreciation and boosts morale, contributing to a positive work environment. Here at Ciphr, we do this in a few ways:
- An employee of the month initiative, Ciphr Heroes, where once a month we publicly celebrate individuals who are actively living our values
- Birthday days off
- Kudos and positive feedback given to and by colleagues in our Ciphr Teams chat
- Company-wide events
- Two days off a year for volunteering
Make stress in the workplace a thing of the past
Prioritising employee wellbeing is not just the right thing to do – it’s also a strategic move that positively impacts an organisation’s productivity and success. HR teams play a central role in shaping a workplace culture that promotes mental, physical and financial health, ultimately reducing stress among employees. By offering tools and resources and fostering an environment of understanding and support, HR professionals empower individuals to manage stress effectively.
An organisation that invests in the holistic wellbeing of its employees not only attracts top talent but also cultivates a loyal, productive workforce that thrives in a positive and nurturing environment. As HR continues to evolve, integrating these stress management strategies will undoubtedly pave the way for happier, healthier and more productive workplaces.
Are you ready to take the first step towards helping your employees alleviate workplace stress? Request a demo to see how Ciphr HR can help.
This article was first published in November 2014. It was updated in October 2023 for freshness, clarity and accuracy.