What can you do to reduce workplace stress?

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Stress sometimes can feel like a necessary evil when it comes to work, particularly in the hospitality industry. In recent years, however, more and more people are fighting for a work-life balance that feels happy and healthy.

In fact, a report published by Beyond Blue saw 91% of respondents say they believe that mental health in the workplace is important. Yet, only 52% of employees believed their workplace could be considered ‘mentally healthy’.

That means almost half of those surveyed are suffering with some kind of extremely stressful environment at work. As a business owner, these figures should jump out at you as an opportunity to improve your workplace, and your staff’s experience.

We spoke with psychologist Dr Annette Koy about what workplace stress really is, what the signs are to look out for, and how to avoid it in your venue.

What exactly is workplace stress?

Like an emotional state of being, stress is caused by a combination of external and internal forces. Workplace stress is often a result of feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done, the pace of which it needs to be actioned, or the type of work that’s being expected of you.

“Stress is something we all experience,” says Dr Koy, “and is the way our body responds to things like demands or pressures.”

She points out that yes, a certain amount of stress is actually healthy - it’s what gets us out of bed and feeling alert - but when the intensity rises above normal, it can start to affect our wellbeing.

Workplace stress can be traced to any number of sources. It could be the boss, workmates, the environment, the speed of working, even the tasks themselves. However, more often than not it comes down to feeling helpless, tired, and overworked.

Signals and identifiers

This reaction of feeling stressed can manifest itself in a variety of ways: not sleeping properly, feeling fatigued, noticing changes in your mood, or even a shift in your personal relationships.

“If you are becoming more frustrated or irritable than you would normally be, then this can have flow on effects to other areas in your life,” says Dr Koy. “Once you feel it in your home life or your relationships, that’s when you know it’s interfering with your life and it’s time to address the problem.”

Other signals of workplace stress can be a reluctance to go to work, losing interest in your set tasks or goals, clashing with your team or staff, or feeling particularly resistant or anxious about changes at work.

Reviewing your management style

Recognising workplace stress in either yourself or your team is one thing, but learning how to fix it is another.

Workplace stress is, most of the time, an organisational issue. It comes down to a business not allocating the time or resources to creating a healthy environment. If your management style is to work backwards from a problem - that is, find a resolution after a situation has occurred - then you will be losing precious time and money.

Instead, you should be looking to work the other way around. What structures can you put in place to prevent workplace stress from happening in the first place? This will see staff turnover decrease, and productivity increase.

Hospitality: what are the major problems?

In hospitality particularly, workplace stress is rampant thanks to the long hours and often unforgiving work. With a ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality, hospitality workers don’t often give enough time or attention to their mental health. Proximity to alcohol during work and as a tool of relaxation after also can contribute to an unhealthy workplace.

“With busy service periods, long hours, and a really competitive industry, the pressure is there - particularly due to social media - to deliver a high customer experience, day in and day out,” explains Dr Koy.

Online review sites, food bloggers, and even just the general public have all contributed to an online space in which hospitality businesses are open to critique more than ever before. It’s a pressure that filters down from top level management, right through to those working on the floor.

Why workplace stress needs your attention

No demographic of hospitality industry work is exempt from workplace stress. Young, old, senior role, junior role - everyone feels the pressure of performing well in an extremely stressful and fast-paced environment.

As Dr Koy points out, reducing workplace stress makes good business sense. Stressed out workers take more time off, and are less productive than happy workers. They will get sick, lose focus, and even move on to another business - all costing you money.

It has even been proven that happy staff work harder: a study by The University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive.

“We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity,” wrote the research team. “Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”

Creating a happy working environment

Changing your workplace to reduce workplace stress doesn’t have to be a seismic undertaking. According to Dr Koy, it’s about installing a few simple changes to routine that will encourage slowing down and speaking up.

“It’s all about opening up a conversation about stress,” says Dr Koy. “Mental health hasn’t really had a high profile in business, so anything your management team can do to give it visibility is important.”

Rather than just ‘putting up posters on the wall’, Dr Koy recommends regular meetings to discuss physical and mental health, and making sure the management are leading the way with their own behaviour, too. One example she gives is break time during shifts: rather than creating longer breaks, encourage more mindful breaks.

“When it comes to the hospitality industry, it’s not about the length of your break but about using that time to manage your energy levels. You might only have a five minute break during the day, but you can use that to get outside or practice some mindfulness. It’s about short rests to recover your energy.”

Dr Koy calls them ‘microresilence strategies’ and says they can be anything from breathing exercises, to listening to a meditation track on your phone, or even just getting out into the fresh air for a walk around the block.

For those managing a hospitality business, consider these five areas as your focus for creating a happier, healthier workplace environment.

#1: Communication: how are you encouraging your staff to open up to you?

#2: Culture/Environment: what events or guidelines have you created to establish a healthy working culture? How do you action this on a regular basis?

#3: Demands of the job/workload: do you communicate clearly with your staff about what is expected of them? Is it a realistic workload?

#4: Workplace Relationships: do your staff feel safe and encouraged to speak with you about their team relationships?

#5: Change/Future: how often do you ask your team about their trajectory in the business? How often do you ask for their suggestions on how to improve?

In the hospitality industry, one of the greatest contributors to stress is being expected to work long hours in a demanding environment, without the ability to control how you are working. This feeling of helplessness leads to stress and frustration, and eventually losing them off the team.

From a management role, you need to be aware of the signs of stress yourself: a happy workplace starts from the top and works its way down. Being relaxed in your role encourages imagination and innovation, and will be better for your whole business.

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