We all play a role in psychological health at work
Psychological distress at work is unfortunately on the rise. So what are organizations doing to manage the challenge of alleviating stress while trying to engage employees? Mental health experts, human resources professionals and business leaders shared their views at a recent conference on the growing challenges of dealing with psychological health and wellbeing at work.
Recognition can help
According to experts, both employers and employees play an important part in managing workplace stress. One way employers can alleviate stress is by giving recognition. This could be in the form of recognizing an employee’s skills and achievements, or by including employees in the decision-making process. Recognition reinforces employee self-esteem, increases engagement, and makes employees more resilient to workplace stress.
What is the employer’s role in terms of recognition? According to François Labrecque, Organizational Development and Talent Management Advisor at McGill, it requires a work environment where people feel their supervisor cares about them. “For recognition to have a real impact it must be credible, authentic and free, otherwise it may be perceived as being manipulative. This means recognizing small day-to-day accomplishments or even sometimes just saying thank you,” says François.
Major change contributes to stress
Managing stress is especially important when organizations are undergoing major change. In times like these, managers need to be sensitive to the stress their employees may be feeling. They should avoid exposing employees to situations where they are more likely to experience higher levels of stress, such as:
• Having an employee do something they have not experienced before without proper guidelines, coaching or training
• Dealing with unpredictability without some understanding of the context
• Questioning an employee’s competence without discussing the issue beforehand
• Having no sense of control over a given situation
Communication can make a difference
Employees need to be aware of their stress level and to address it before it becomes unhealthy. In some cases, this may be as simple as asking for a meeting with a supervisor to ask questions or raise concerns. It may mean finding outlets to release stress, such as physical activity, or participating in positive social events. Or it may require accessing the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for help in addressing the sources of stress and helping them managing it.
Unmanaged stress, over a long period of time, may lead to mental health problems such as depression, which is painful for employees and challenging for the employer.
There is help
In addition to taking steps to reduce employees’ stress levels, managers need to be able to recognize the signs of stress and react when it occurs. Managers can seek advice and expertise to guide them through this process. The Organizational Development team, the Employee Assistance Program and the HR advisor network are there to help. The EAP is an independent and confidential service available to employees and their families. More information can be found on their website at http://www.mcgill.ca/hr/bp/benefits/eap
Experts agree that beyond managing costs linked with productivity issues, considering the human factor can be far more effective. Giving employees a voice, making sure they know they are making a contribution in a challenging environment is powerful. “What it takes is empathy, respect, accessibility, transparency and mutual trust – key considerations that can go a long way in creating a context of strong psychological health and wellbeing, despite the challenges,” concludes François.