How to Win the Battle Against Workplace Stress and Covid-19

2020 may have been the year that no one could have predicted, but that doesn’t mean things are set to be plain sailing right the way through 2021 either.

With the pandemic still causing damage to the economy and severe restrictions to the things in life we used to take for granted, there is something that needs to be talked about now more than ever before: mental health.

To give you and your business a better idea of what you can do, what you can expect, and why it matters, we going to focus on a quick, 5-minute overview that covers all the basics. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Why is workplace stress a real problem?

Gone are the days when we used to push mental health under the carpet and boldly declare that everything in life, is fine. Nowadays, society is increasingly opening up and discussing mental health online with social media, but is that filtering down into face-to-face interactions in the workplace?

While quantifying this type of behaviour is intrinsically difficult, what is clear is that workplace stress, and the associated mental health problems that it causes, is an increasingly growing problem. Recent figures from the HSE for 2019/2020 list workplace stress as the number one cause for absenteeism, accounting for a staggering 44% of all sick days taken. Clearly it is still a real problem, and even more so when you think about what that number really means…

Stressed workers are less productive

Any business wants to be able to get the best from their most important asset, but if the star performer in the office is feeling stressed out and overworked, it’s not going to happen. Thinking of reducing workplace stress as a way to optimise individual productivity, not just to reduce the sick day totals, is the most productive way to really start tackling this growing problem the right way.

Anxious or depressed workers have less motivation

Motivation is so often the missing ingredient that turns someone of average ability into someone who is soon indispensable. It’s what gets people to give that extra 10% which can make the world of difference to the success of a project, but it can be near impossible to find if the right foundation isn’t there. If members of your team feel anxious or depressed as a result of workplace stress then the chances are that they will be unable to motivate themselves and perform to the best of their ability. This doesn’t mean they are lazy or somehow unwilling, it means they need help if they are to continue to develop in your company.

Mental health can dramatically impact the ability to communicate

The other key thing to note about mental health is that it doesn’t just impact the individual — every team will feel it too. Mental health makes it harder for people to communicate, collaborate, and get things done in a multi-person setting. Three things you don’t want to happen when you’re working to grow a business in these difficult and turbulent economic times. Once again it’s vital to note that helping your employers is what will address these types of issues faster than any other type of approach.

Where do stress and Covid tie in together?

Okay, now that we’ve talked about the impact workplace stress has on any business, it’s time to tie it into Covid. Yes, there will certainly be an increased level of sick days taken as people deal with the virus, have to self isolate, and look after loved ones; but what about mental health?

While everyone’s situation and mental health is different, issues such as social restrictions, increased isolation, more time spent online, and economic uncertainty will have a negative impact on everyone. Some will continue to thrive and find coping mechanisms, while others will find that the sudden change in their circumstances is truly detrimental to the way they feel about life and the enjoyment they get from it. As a result we can expect workplace stress levels to jump significantly. In fact, there is already clear evidence that this is going to be the case, although the overall size of the trend is still being established as we work through the pandemic and come out the other side.

By means of example, the level of self-reported work related stress is up 70% in the last 5 years, with nearly half of that rise occurring in the last 12 months for which the HSE has collated figures. Proof if any were needed that the unprecedented restrictions and uncertainty we now live side by side with are causing more people to experience workplace stress than before.

Is workplace stress really such a big problem?

As a team working to improve mental health you would expect us to be championing better measures to improve stress levels in the workplace, but you shouldn’t just take our word for it.

The total amount of time lost in 2019/20 was 17.9 million working days, which equates to a loss of 21.6 days lost per case per person when averaged over the same period of time. While this doesn’t mean that everyone who suffered from stress was off for just over 4 weeks, it does mean that many were, and an appreciable number would have been off for months or even had to leave their jobs. With Covid-19 changing the way our very society operates and functions, this is a worrying trend that is only set to accelerate over the next 12 months.

Will workplace stress actually cost you money?

Any business that has individuals and teams who are unable to give their best, are unable to go to work, and struggle to communicate is going to lose money. The exact amount you would lose depends on many different variables, making a quantitative analysis beyond our scope, but there a number of ways it can manifest itself that you should consider:

  • Workplace stress will result in higher staff turnover, which then results in an expanded training budget and the constant need to hire new staff
  • Team cohesion and productivity could be drastically impacted, especially when those who are suffering stress are working from home and feeling increasingly isolated
  • Any drop in productivity and output can be expected to cost you money, especially if your competitors are already taking proactive steps to safeguard the mental health of their employees

Now that we’ve outlined the problem and hopefully convinced you that it’s one which needs addressing, it’s time to talk about what you can do about it. But first, an important question…

Does your business do enough to tackle workplace stress?

Before we can talk solutions we need to be open, upfront, and honest about the existing efforts your company is making. The idea here is not to shame you into action, or to congratulate yourself on a job well done, it’s to highlight areas that need attention and improvement so you can take the action that will make all the difference.

To make a start, consider if any of the following apply to you:

  • Low morale or a negative atmosphere in the canteen or break room
  • A tendency for certain departments to adopt a siege type mentality
  • Problems with repeated late arrivals or long lunches
  • Reduced transparency for the reasons sick days were taken

These are all indicators that teams and individuals are experiencing stress, not wanting to raise it with management, and are finding coping mechanisms where they can. The problem is that these mechanisms don’t address the root causes and therefore cannot hope to be effective over the long term.

What can you do about it?

Good question! As a team who care about helping individuals, teams, and businesses of all shapes and sizes, we want to share our top 4 ideas on what you can do to change things. Take a look, give them some thought, and then start thinking about how you’re going to put them into practice.

Digital resources

Teams like ours here at House of Self believe that when you make help and assistance as accessible as possible, that’s when you will see the biggest and best results. It’s why we’ve built an ever-expanding range of options and resources online so that you can redirect your team to exactly what they need.

Create an open culture

People want to be able to talk about their issues, problems, and annoyances, so try to create an open culture where no one is afraid of speaking their mind about how they feel. By making it a positive and forward-thinking culture that’s geared towards finding solutions, rather than complaining, you can make people feel valued and listened to in a truly meaningful way.

Lead by example

As a leader it’s your responsibility to set an example, and that goes for mental health too. Highlight ways in which you have struggled in the past, ask others to open up, and be proactive when you sense that someone is struggling. There is simply no substitute for leadership and management that spots an issue early and takes the steps needed to address it.

Remove the stigma

Last but not least, you want to normalise discussions of stress and mental health as much as you possibly can. This will remove the social barriers that many still feel exist when they need to open up about what they’re thinking and feeling. Start by offering resources and opportunities to talk in informal settings and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Why not empower your staff and power your business with our brand new evidence-based psychoeducational platform designed to enhance wellbeing and drive performance? To learn more, click here. House of Self also offers workplace workshops and masterclasses to help you cultivate more engaged and healthy working environments. For more information, please contact Emma at [email protected] 


House of Self strives to offer a belonging wellness service that is inclusive of everyone; a place where you can come home, to yourself.

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