December 21, 2023

Stress in the workplace: how to support your employees properly

It is crucial to address the issue of stress management and take the appropriate measures within the company. This articles shows how this can be achieved.


It's the end of December, projects have to be finalised, deadlines are approaching; we are in the year-end spurt. Stress seems pre-programmed. But for many, it is not just a silent everyday companion at the end of the year. If your team is under constant tension, this can have dire consequences not only for the health of your employees, but also for the success of your company. Stressed employees become less productive, are absent more often or resign due to dissatisfaction.
It is therefore crucial to address the issue of stress management and take the appropriate measures within the company. I would like to share with you today how this can be achieved.

What exactly is stress?

Stress is a reaction to external or internal stimuli, the so-called stressors. These include, for example, noise, worries, pain, but also excessive demands or competitive pressure. The body reacts to stressors by releasing messenger substances. These make you alert and focussed and ensure that the body is provided with enough energy. In other words, if a stressful situation arises, we switch to flight or defence mode - logically, because these are the only two ways in which humans could react to an attack by a sabre-toothed tiger, for example. Stress reactions were therefore essential for survival back then. Today, they are only necessary in absolutely exceptional cases.

Differentiation between eustress and disstress

If the stress and the effect of the stressors only last for a short time, stress can be perceived positively. At a job interview, an important exam or during a marathon, it has a performance-enhancing effect and the person becomes alert and focussed. Once the reaction subsides, no more stress hormones are released and the tension gives way to a euphoric mood. Such situations are known as positive eustress. This occurs when a situation is perceived as challenging, but nevertheless solvable. Eustress has no long-term negative effect on the body.
The situation is different with so-called dis-stress. In contrast to eustress, this is perceived negatively because it creates a tense state over a longer period of time. As a result, it also has the opposite effect: disstress makes you feel overwhelmed and anxious, worried and unable to concentrate.

If a person suffers permanently, i.e. chronically, from such stress, this can have serious consequences for their health and psyche. This can result in hormonal imbalances, sleep disorders and chronic illnesses. This not only reduces the satisfaction and work performance of your employees, they will also be absent more often.

What triggers stress in the working environment?

The following aspects are among the most common stressors in the workplace:
- An excessive workload
- Internal pressure due to high personal responsibility
- Deadline pressure and constant availability
- Too little work or monotony
- An unpleasant working atmosphere
- Constant interruptions
- Multitasking and pressure to perform
- Conflicts with colleagues or superiors

How do I determine whether my employees are stressed?

To determine the stress level of your employees, you should observe them closely. If a team member's performance is steadily declining or there is an increase in sick leave and absences, this may be an indication of overwork. A tense or exhausted mood, uncontrolled or even aggressive behaviour towards team members or customers can also be a sign of stress. A classic indicator is, of course, working during breaks, at the weekend or after work - even if there is no deadline causing acute time pressure.
In addition to pure observation, you can of course also find out how things are going with regular surveys. In addition to the general mood and satisfaction, you can also ask about feelings regarding deadline pressure, a sense of responsibility and competitive pressure. Physical symptoms such as sleep quality, exhaustion or frequent headaches can also provide information about stress levels.

How can stress management at work succeed?

It is crucial that the respective team member, you as a manager and the company as an organisation all play their part in balanced stress management. Don't forget that you have a role model function here. You should therefore apply all measures to yourself and set a healthy example of how to deal with stress.
But what can company stress management look like? In this section, I would like to draw on the knowledge and methods of a leading German stress researcher, Gert Kaluza. He divides stress management into three levels: instrumental, cognitive and palliative-regenerative stress management. The aim is not only to deal with acute stress, but also to avoid or reduce future stress.

Instrumental stress management

The first step is to recognise the causes of stress, the so-called stressors, and to reduce or, if possible, even avoid them. The current workload and time management should therefore be analysed. Can all planned tasks realistically be completed in the given time? Or can work steps be delegated to colleagues with a smaller workload? If conflicts or unrest in the company lead to a tense atmosphere, then you should definitely initiate clarifying discussions so that a relaxed atmosphere and positive and respectful behaviour become part of everyday life again. You should also establish a corporate culture in which it is not good manners to work a lot of overtime or to be constantly available at weekends.

Cognitive stress management

The aim of cognitive stress management is to change the individual's attitude to the issue - because this can drastically increase the stress they feel. This includes recognising and accepting your own performance limits and lowering your expectations of yourself. Perfectionism only gets in the way and should also be reduced. Make it possible for your employees to attend training or coaching sessions on how to deal with stressful situations. You can also support them by embedding tasks in a larger context and demonstrating their purpose. Pursuing a clearly formulated corporate vision together can also lend more meaning and positivity to everyday life.

Palliative-regenerative stress management

The last step, i.e. palliative-regenerative stress management, is concerned with the emotion-orientated level of stress management. The aim is to reduce tension (permanently) and to control and regulate the psychological and physical reaction to stress. Here you should differentiate between short-term and long-term measures. In the short term, taking regular breaks is crucial. For example, set up a quiet room or normalise micro-breaks during which your employees can get up briefly, air the room or get a coffee. Fitness or health programmes such as a visit to a fitness studio or a prevention course can also provide an important balance during acute periods of stress. Alternatively, how about a round of business yoga? In the long term, your employees need enough days off for relaxation and a healthy work-life balance. If you notice that one of your team members is suffering from a lot of tension and stress over a longer period of time, you should also discuss the possibility of a different working time model with them.

It is crucial to address the issue of stress management and take the appropriate measures within the company. This articles shows how this can be achieved.
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