Last year I wrote an article about productivity.
The gist was that employees with a purpose are more productive.
So if purpose makes people more productive, what makes them less productive?
A lot of things I would say, but somewhere near the top of the list is ‘stress.’
There are some who argue stress drives us forward, injects urgency into our work and makes us more productive.
That might be true to a certain extent, but there’s a line. In my experience – when pressure becomes stress – people are less effective.
And we know that stress can lead to sickness and various health conditions…in the short and long term.
So it’s important to manage stress in the workplace as part of our duty of care, for compassionate reasons and for business reasons – because stress lowers productivity levels.
“nothing is unchangeable”
John F Kennedy once said: “The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain.”
The UK public sector is changing rapidly – driven by budget challenges, technology, societal shifts and other factors.
And in times of change, I think you see three types of people within an organisation.
• Those who thrive on it.
• Those who appear to be working as normal.
• Those who try to resist it.
It’s natural to feel uncertain about change. For a lot of people, change can represent risk.
And the fact is, all three types of people can be affected by pressure, which – in times of change – can lead to stress if not managed correctly, and with the right support in place.
So what can employers do?
4 things we’re trying to do at wrexham council
We can’t stop change. It’s part of life. And part of an organisation’s life-cycle.
But we can do things to make change less stressful and support those who appear to be suffering the symptoms of stress.
We’re part-way through a major reshaping initiative at Wrexham Council that will bring change for a lot of employees – and the services they deliver.
I’m not saying that we’re experts, but we are trying to get some basic things right in how we support people through our reshaping process.
Keeping colleagues informed is really important. If employees aren’t informed why change is happening – or what it means for them – in a timely fashion, then uncertainty and a lack of understanding can occur.
We try to communicate with employees in an open, timely and clear way. And if there’s something we can’t tell people yet, we try to explain why – and give them a time-scale for when we will be able to tell them.
I don’t know if we’ve been successful all of the time. But if we’ve made mistakes, we try to learn from them. That’s how we grow and develop as an organisation.
Another approach we’ve looked at involves adapting the Kubler-Ross model as part of our consultation process with staff. Although devised for dealing with death and focused around the stages of grief, its principles can be applied to any change process.
It’s also important to make time for staff to meet and discuss any change proposals, and to provide an open door for colleagues who want to share concerns with managers.
2. early intervention and bespoke support
People experience and handle change differently. So it makes sense to offer bespoke support.
Last summer we achieved the Gold Corporate Health Standard – a quality-mark for workplace health in Wales.
The assessors said “…this is a council that cares for the people they serve, and for the people providing the services.”
They also said mental health promotion was one of our biggest strengths – partly because of the range of support options available.
From simple flexible-working policies that give people greater choice about where and when they work, to more interactive things like group-therapy and mindfulness training.
Prevention is better than cure.
We help managers carry out risk assessments, reduce ‘stressors’ (things that might contribute to stress in the workplace) and put together bespoke support plans for colleagues more likely to experience stress (and these are all based on the HSE’s Management Standards for work-related stress).
Our human resources team also introduced ‘case conferences’ with occupational health – where colleagues can sit down and talk through a variety of topics with their manager.
This means all the relevant people are around the table, talking face to face, as opposed to ‘talking to each other’ through reports and emails.
The key is getting in there early, and trying to support people.
If we understand pressures are building up to a level an individual can’t cope with, we’re able to look at reasonable adjustments and discuss issues before they build into a negative situation.
We won’t be able to find solutions for everyone, but having clear processes that can help managers identify and manage issues arising in their teams is important.
3. encouraging people to look after themselves
It’s not just down to managers to look after us. We all have a duty to look after ourselves too.
That’s why we stage regular events designed to encourage employees to look after their own health.
Our annual Health and Wellbeing Day is the big one – with lots of exhibitors, activities and information. And for colleagues based in outlying offices, we take the show on the road and organise satellite events.
This isn’t just about exercise and diet. It’s about all the things that impact upon our health – including financial health, mental health and caring responsibilities.
We also run activities to support national campaigns – like Time to Talk, Stoptober, Dry January, Prostate Cancer Awareness, No Smoking Day, Sun Screening Awareness month. The list goes on.
It’s pretty well documented that staying healthy can have a big impact on our resilience and ability to cope with change.
So encouraging employees to look after themselves is a good investment.
4. rewarding positive behaviour
Promoting a caring culture – where issues aren’t ignored – is another goal.
We try to recognise people who care about colleagues through our ‘WOW’ employee awards.
Staff can nominate anyone they like, and we often get examples of people who’ve gone that extra mile to support team-mates in difficult situations.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but an insight into some of the things we’re trying to do to prevent and manage mental well-being in a period of change and uncertainty.
And if there’s ever a time to invest in the health of your workforce, it’s during periods of major organisational change.
You need your people to be at their most productive and resilient, at a time when potentially they’re at their most vulnerable.
As a parting thought, I’d like to offer this.
I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review about helping employees avoid burnout.
It made a lot of sense, but the key thought that really stood out for me was this.
Try to be kind.
As a manager or leader, showing compassion can make a big difference to colleagues.
Because for a work-mate who is feeling pressured, a little kindness can be the difference between a bad day and an awful day.