Workplace stress tops UN agency agenda

Apr 21, 2016

Since 2003, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has marked World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April by turning its attention to a pressing issue facing the global workforce. The theme for 2016 is ‘Workplace stress: A collective challenge’, recognising the ever-growing pressures of modern working life.

According to the UN agency an ‘always on’ working culture, spurred on by our smartphones, is making the lines between our work and home lives increasingly blurry, with serious consequences for our mental health and wellbeing. Throw in an ongoing global downturn, precarious labour markets and fears over job losses and unemployment – all of which contribute to work-related stress – and the cause of the trend is clear.

But if work is part of the problem, it’s also potentially the source of the solution. As the ILO’s Workplace stress report illustrates, workplaces offer the ideal setting to counterbalance the stresses we face: “In this complex context, the workplace is at the same time an important source of psychosocial risks and the ideal venue to address them in order to protect the health and well-being of workers.”

If you’re trying to tackle workplace stress, it can help to consider the issue from both individual and organisational angles. 

The big picture: Tips for managers

Dealing with stressful factors that affect the whole workplace – poor communication, heavy workloads, uncertainty, for example – can have major benefits for all employees and is a key step in creating a mentally healthy workplace. Taking a critical look at the way tasks and systems are structured – with a view to striking a balance between business needs and those of employees – is also a really beneficial exercise.

How do I do it?

  • Part of creating a Heads Up action plan involves taking a close look at what areas cause stress in the workplace, including specific tasks, schedules and working environments. Your resulting plan provides a step-by-step approach to tackling each issue.
  • Having agreed procedures and systems in place means everyone’s on the same page. We’ve taken the hassle out of policy-making with this series of handy templates.

Looking after yourself

You might be reading this and thinking ‘I can’t change any of this stuff.’ And while it’s true that you can’t always influence workplace culture or set your own deadlines, there are a number of things you can do at an individual level to keep your stress levels under control.

How do I do it?

  • Get out of the workplace during lunch – even if it's just for a 10 minute walk. You'll feel refreshed and more productive in the afternoon.
  • Try scheduling meetings during core work hours, not your personal time.
  • Restrict your overtime hours and speak to your manager if demands are unreasonable.
  • If you frequently work late, try leaving on time at least a couple of times a week.
  • Avoid checking your email or answering work calls out of hours.

Of course, the best approaches will look at stress-causing issues at both macro and micro levels, and will need buy-in from managers.

If your boss isn’t sure where to begin, steer them towards our Getting started kit – it’s got everything they need to kick off the journey. They could also check out Beyond Blue's ‘Toolbox talk’ training package for a series of five-minute talks that anyone can deliver to improve understanding around mental health issues and start conversations in the workplace.

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