Work-related stress affects a quarter of the population in the UK, making our jobs, along with health and money, one of the most stressful factors in our lives. There’s also a link between the number of people who say they’re stressed and the number of people who quit their jobs. Furthermore, work-related stress and mental illness account for more than half of all missed workdays, costing British employers an estimated £26 million every year.

The role of a leader has many different elements and varies depending on many factors. Nonetheless, people’s well-being should always be a top priority for any leader in any industry. So, what can leaders do in order to help reduce work-related stress?

A big challenge of work-related stress

As mentioned above, work-related stress is increasingly prevalent, yet there is still a stigma associated with revealing it to co-workers and managers. According to research, 93 per cent of people who called in sick due to stress lied about this being the reason.

As leaders, we should continually work towards creating a healthy and honest culture where people feel safe and comfortable discussing their concerns. A greater emphasis on open, honest and ongoing communication will enable us to know the people we work with better, allowing us to identify changes in mood and behaviours, which are good indicators of stress. Also, we need to be better at being vulnerable. If we want others to confide in us, we need to show that it’s ok to do so ourselves.

Furthermore, when we’re under stress, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone that makes us crave social interaction. As a result, creating a supportive environment among co-workers can serve as an antidote to stress. Additionally, helping others can also alleviate stress.

Altruism is beneficial for stress

work-related stressHelping others has been demonstrated to be beneficial to stress. Having a mutually supportive workplace community can have clear and tangible benefits. Leaders can also provide opportunities for workers to help others outside of work.

Some businesses, for example, allow employees to volunteer with various organisations and causes during working hours. Companies are increasingly forging meaningful and sustainable links with local initiatives and charities, providing a valuable opportunity to ‘give back’ to the local community. 

This also has the potential to positively affect stress levels because it taps into people’s sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Meaningful lives and stress

Living a meaningful life, according to studies, helps as a stress buffer. Furthermore, having a job that matches our beliefs and purpose has been mentioned as one of the primary motivations for people shifting occupations.

It’s critical, if somewhat idealistic some cynics might argue, to aim for a job that is both meaningful and attainable. Proactively enabling and encouraging employees to take on demanding yet fulfilling projects that also stimulate and inspire them can be a powerful strategy to help alleviate work-related stress and relieve the mundanity of working life.

Again, communication is critical because we need to know and understand people’s values and aspirations in order to create a sense of purpose for them at work. Taking into account people’s strengths and enthusiasms can also ensure  ‘best fit’ for new work tasks or collaborative projects. If someone excels at communicating and teaching others, we could look for opportunities for them to use these skills, for example, to upskill colleagues in a particular process or as part of onboarding new colleagues.

The Optimist view…

Any job will have stressful times, but there are things we can all do to reduce stress or change how our bodies react to it. While work-related stress is a significant issue for many businesses, concentrating on culture, and engendering a sense of belonging and purpose can be effective strategies for combating it.

Being a great leader is not straightforward, and it becomes even more difficult in certain situations. The challenge is to harness the drive and motivation to succeed in combination with channelling a sense of purpose and a strong desire to serve others.

At Optimist Performance, we understand the challenges leaders face, which is why our Executive Coaching programme acts as practical and proven support and guide system for those who want to exceed their potential and become the best version of themselves. Get in touch today to learn more about our Executive Coaching programme.