First coined in 2005 following a press release by a travel agent, ‘Blue Monday’ is the name given to the third Monday in January, falling this year on the 17th. Supposedly, this day is the most depressing one in the calendar, worked out using an equation that considers factors such as cold weather and low motivation.

Although Blue Monday has been widely discredited by the psychology community, this does not mean its message should be ignored.

Whether perceived as pseudoscience or not, Blue Monday provides an opportunity for employers to open a conversation about mental health in their workplace.

Stress is one of the largest contributors towards ill mental health, with the ability to manage this in a workplace setting being crucial for minimising potential issues. Without robust policies and procedures, stress can have a detrimental impact upon employee productivity and morale.

While these situations may be considered temporary, there is always the possibility of issues developing further without active management, resulting in a potential employment tribunal claim and all the expense that comes with it.

What causes stress?

The first step towards managing workplace stress is to understand what may be causing it in the first place.

Some common causes of stress are:

  • Excessive pressure at work
  • Unhappy relationships
  • Financial difficulties
  • Chronic illness or injury
  • Times of uncertainty

We have provided an extensive guide for managing stress below, although the relevance of each tip will vary depending on the cause.

How to manage workplace stress

Take small steps

As the famous saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. When we work towards goals in the workplace, it can be overwhelming if we focus solely on the end result. In the worst cases, we may give up before we even begin.

Breaking things down into manageable chunks can motivate us to continue through each subsequent stage. As an example, if you are writing a novel, you do not immediately write 50,000 words. You write sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter until the work is complete.

If your employees are experiencing stress, encourage them to look at the problem in this same way and break tasks down where possible. If their stress is relating to a large project, is it possible to reduce this into manageable chunks?

By focussing on decreasing just one element of stress at a time, individuals are likely to see better results, rather than trying to eradicate it all at once.

7/11 Breathing

This is a simple exercise that can be practiced by employees who may be feeling overwhelmed, performed by breathing in to the count of seven and exhaling to the count of 11.

Making the out-breath last longer than the in-breath helps the body to relax, as it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. This distracts our minds from any worries and gives us a valuable moment of respite.

7/11 breathing can be practiced for one minute or five depending on how much stress is being experienced, and how much time is available.

Learn to set boundaries

Many of us find it hard to say no, possibly due to worries about whether we will be liked by colleagues or friends. Yet if we say yes to things we don’t agree with, we prevent ourselves from realising our true intentions.

Encouraging employees to set boundaries is important, as it allows wants and needs to be made clear to others in the workplace. Saying no doesn’t automatically make someone a bad or unhelpful person. Instead, it allows them to be more assertive and prevents resentment from building up.

Training is effective for developing an individual’s ability to influence others at work, while ensuring that communication remains fair and professional. As providers of Personal Development training, we offer a practical course dedicated to Assertiveness and Influencing, with further details on its benefits available here.

Express feelings

If we fail to pay attention to our feelings, we risk allowing them to build up, which can become overwhelming while also detracting us from our true intentions.

Feelings should be viewed as important information about what is right for an individual. By understanding and expressing how we feel, we can improve our relationships inside and outside of work, helping us to achieve our goals more effectively.

Not everyone will feel confident with processing and expressing their feelings at work, which is where an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can be beneficial. This confidential service allows individuals to receive on-demand support for personal or work-related issues, offering subsequent contributions to morale, productivity, and performance.

As providers of a market-leading EAP, we can help you to support your employees in these areas, with full details available here.

Challenge negative thinking

In difficult situations, it is easy to think negatively by predicting the worst or telling yourself that things are hopeless. Rather than jumping to these conclusions, viewing situations in an alternative manner can help to prevent us from spiralling into negativity, which can be damaging to work performance.

Most of us have what Cognitive Behaviouralists refer to as Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs). These are habitual negative ways of perceiving what is going on, and are based on belief systems rather than reality.

Examples of some common NATs are:

  • “I can’t get started”
  • “I’m letting people down”
  • “I can’t get organised”

Encouraging your employees to identify and reframe any NATs is a useful exercise for managing stress and approaching work in a positive manner.

Take time to pause

When we are frantically busy, put on the spot, or caught up in a heated exchange, it can be difficult to make rational decisions or say the right thing.

If you suspect that your employees are experiencing these feelings, advise them to pause and allow themselves a chance to think clearly. If this is not enough, taking more time to reflect on the situation can be helpful for identifying the best response.

Unhealthy coping aids

Reaching for a glass of wine, eating junk food, or zoning out online when we feel stressed may make us feel better in the short term, but if these actions become habits and continue, they will inevitably lead to greater problems.

Although facing up to difficult feelings isn’t easy, it can help us to make the right choices and move forward effectively.

Again, having access to an EAP is extremely valuable in these situations, as it provides a safe space for discussing any unhealthy habits, without fear of being judged.

Be active

Exercise is a great stress reliever as it releases feel-good hormones such as endorphins, while keeping us in good physical condition and giving us a break from daily activities.

People often report that they come up with their best ideas whilst running, walking, or other forms of exercise. Without the usual focus on getting things done, our mind is free to wander and come up with more creative solutions.

If you feel that an employee is not utilising their breaks, it is important to remind them of the benefits associated with time away from their desk. Any attempt to exercise during breaks, whether walking or running, is likely to help with the management of stress.

AHR Consultants can help

Overall, a proactive approach to managing stress is key for reducing your potential exposure to employment tribunal claims. It is well established how expensive and time consuming a claim can be, so we highly recommend that you follow the guidance in this article.

If you suspect that there are existing issues relating to employee stress in your organisation, our HR and employment law team can help.

We have a broad experience of supporting employers with these concerns, including reactive support to help manage ongoing issues, as well as the proactive delivery of training courses or an EAP.

To receive tailored guidance, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or complete the form below.