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The Silent Pandemic: Stress. Can HR Vaccinate Against It?

STRESS, either you have been a victim of it yourself or you know somebody who has. Consider yourself lucky if the previous statement does not describe your work life. According to multiple studies, there has been a stress pandemic in recent years. Unfortunately, unlike the Covid-19, researchers have not developed a vaccine against stress yet, or have they?

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Identifying Stress

According to the Mental Health Foundation stress is defined as “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure”. Sounds easy enough to identify, right? Say the word when you are being overwhelmed or unable to cope with pressure and your manager can ease your workload. Sadly, it is not a black or white scenario. That introduces the first problem surrounding stress: Identifying it. Many people hide being stressed even though help is needed. One of the reasons is the stigma revolving around stress, the thought of being incapable of meeting your workplace’s expectations, which introduces the first solution to prevent stress using HR tools: Encourage open dialogue around stress. 

A man wearing face mask next to curls representing stress.

Encourage Open Dialogue Around Stress 

Studies have shown that talking about stress can help prevent a stressful environment (nearly 80% of employees in the Joblist Survey said open dialogue is at least a somewhat effective way to eliminate stress). This may sound like complaining but the constructive dialogue around stress can help employees reduce the negative impact of being stressed as the stigma surrounding stress reduces. Furthermore, the employees become more aware of the signs of being stressed, and thus the probability of discovering stress in the ‘early stages’ increases. HR Morning has introduced the following three ways of starting an open dialogue around stress with your employees. Encourage your employees to create: 

  • a list of the three biggest common stressors
  • suggestions from each person on how to overcome or alleviate them, and
  • recommendations for management on how to help them make it happen.
Three persons from different cultures wearing face masks.

Teach Problem Solving

Encouraging open dialogue around stress will probably help prevent stress, but how do you make your employees better at not being overwhelmed by difficult challenges? Each day the world gets more complex, for example, recent hot topics within companies have been AI, big data, and blockchain technology which, to be honest, most people do not fully understand to the extent that is necessary to leverage the technology (you can learn more about the before mentioned topics at our HR conference in Copenhagen, link). This introduces the second problem surrounding stress: How to equip your employees with the necessary tools to handle difficult tasks. Stress does not necessarily depend on the amount of workload but instead on the way in which the employee structures and tackles tasks. Thus, the second solution is to teach problem solving. HR Morning has introduced the following ways of teaching problem solving to your employees.

  1. Define the problem. No matter how small (meeting a deadline) or large (finishing an unprecedented project), name it.
  2. Brainstorm potential solutions. Throw in easy fixes, major overhauls, and out-of-the-box ideas.
  3. Rank the solutions. Consider what’s most feasible considering time, resources, practicality, and alignment with personal and corporate goals.
  4. Develop an action plan. Set deadlines, define tasks, and anticipate outcomes.
  5. Test the solution. Regularly check that the plan is working so there’s time to step back, adjust or try another solution.

Can HR Vaccinate Against Stress?

To answer the question of the article, if HR can vaccinate against stress, the simple answer is no. Of course, it is not possible to vaccinate against stress (at least for now). But there is no doubt that methods within HR have been proven successful in limiting stress such as creating a culture of support with an open dialogue and equipping the employees with the right tools to handle difficult situations. Maybe we should ask ourselves, what did I do to create a stress-free environment today, and how did I encourage an open dialogue around stress?

Sources: HRtechX, HR Morning, Mental Health Foundation.

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