Small businesses and managing stress: The holistic approach

Why it's beneficial to incorporate a stress management plan into your company's ethos.

Working for an SME has a number of really good advantages. There’s the sense of belonging that SME employment engenders as well as the greater profile we’re likely to have in a smaller company, among many others. And it’s certain that there are many of us who’d think twice before swapping our position within an SME for a job in an organisation staffed by thousands.

However, working in a small business means that things can often be hectic. With targets to achieve, deadlines to meet and clients to please, it’s all go. When things are like this it’s natural for all of us at one point or another to feel slightly overwhelmed, as we push on to meet the challenges of the working day.

But there’s a line between the natural sense of pressure that all of us experience from time to time, and stress. So we’ve written this short guide to help you look at ways to better manage stress within the context of SME business, whether you’re a small business owner, manager or employee.

What stress is – and what it isn’t

According to the mental health charity Mind, around one in every six workers in the UK suffers from stress, anxiety or depression at any one time. The prevalence of stress within the UK workforce has led to a lot of media coverage, and many headlines with the words ‘stress epidemic’ in bold letters.

In this age of openness regarding mental health issues, the statistics have one very positive silver lining – which is that while stress levels may be high, more and more people feel able to discuss the problem with their GP and seek assistance, which in turn affects the published stats and the hospital admissions figures. So while there is still too much stress around, it’s far healthier that people are seeking treatment than keeping quiet about it.

However, there’s no exact definition for stress – the Mind charity’s guide on how to manage stress says that it’s not a medical diagnosis, but that when prolonged, stress can lead to depression, anxiety, or ‘more severe mental problems’.  And it’s the prolonged nature of these feelings that are key. NHS Choices defines stress as the ‘the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure’.

So, while pressure is the ingredient that motivates us to do our best in job interviews, presentations and so on, too much of it can mean being stressed.

Taking a holistic approach to stress management

While the term ‘holistic’ might seem vague and new age-y, in practice it’s a valuable way to approach some of the wellbeing challenges that are present within the workplace. So in dealing with stress there are a few things to focus on, rather than specific instances of it, and these could include some of the following:

  • Including stress management in the organisation’s workplace wellbeing policy – such as identifying factors that could be adding unnecessarily to stress levels, promoting mental health, and assessing risks.
  • Providing mental health training for line managers to help recognise situations where staff may be experiencing stress.
  • Providing training and information for staff on self-help techniques for stress, such as the benefits of exercise, healthy eating, and avoiding unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation are also currently popular, with many respected journals and organisations promoting its usefulness in reducing stress. The Mental Health Foundation even has a site dedicated to the mindfulness technique.
  • Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) use third party counselling services to provide assistance for staff who may be experiencing difficulties such as stress resulting from relationship breakdowns or bereavement. Business health insurance is also offered as a means of giving staff the peace of mind knowing that they’ll be seen promptly if in need of eligible medical treatment – increasing employee satisfaction levels and hopefully subtracting one less potential stressor from the mix.

Related: Five key steps to meet the workplace wellbeing challenge

The advantages of a stress-reduced workplace

Focussing on stress reduction form a holistic point of view – from job design through to training and management style – brings benefits such as the following, most of which should be measurable:

  • Reduction in sickness absence rates
  • Improved levels of staff satisfaction
  • Better employee retention numbers

And just as the approach is holistic, so the results potentially can be too: from the lowered sickness rates mentioned above, to higher productivity levels and increased profitability.

Further reading on stress

Stress in the workplace costing UK businesses

British businesses could be losing in excess of £1 billion in direct costs due to stressed-out workers taking time off, research finds.

As many as one in five employees (19.6 per cent) have taken time off work due to stress, with more than a quarter (28.8 per cent) saying they feel stressed at work all or most of the time.

According to a study by serviced office provider Business Environment, one fifth (21 per cent) of employees take work home at least one to two times a week with factors such as unrealistic deadlines, pressure from above and lack of support cited as the biggest culprits in causing stress.

The back-to-work blues make Monday the most stressful day of the week for more than a third of workers (36 per cent), while Thursday is voted the calmest day in the office.

The findings underline the negative effects stress can have in the workplace. One in twelve (almost 8 per cent) admit that they have shouted at a colleague as a result of stress, while 3 per cent have thrown something across the room and 2 per cent said they have sworn in front of a client or customer.

David Saul, managing director at Business Environment says that many companies have slipped into creating a culture where employees are expected to work all hours at any cost.

‘This research clearly shows that this is actually having a detrimental effect, not only on employee health and wellbeing, but also on the wider business with billions being lost in days taken off sick.

‘I believe all employers have a responsibility to challenge the status quo and cultivate an office environment where employees feel supported by senior staff and able to voice concerns before stress levels go through the roof. Of course, there will be times when employees are required to go above and beyond, but this should never be at the detriment to their health.’

The research also reveals that popular tactics used to de-stress at work include taking a short walk to get fresh air (43 per cent), calling friends or family (32 per cent) and having a rant in private (28 per cent). Nipping out for a cigarette or exercising are also popular responses.

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