Stress is a problem that can affect anyone, in any industry, at any time. It can creep up unexpectedly or it can build up over time. Stress can manifest itself in different ways with different people and, if left unchecked, can lead to significant psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and burnout.
You may think that stress would be less of an issue in the summer, with longer, lighter and warmer days (if we’re lucky!) all helping to boost our mood. However, there are still plenty of things that can cause stress, some of which may surprise you. Dealing with heavier workloads to cover for colleagues who are away on leave, supporting children who are taking exams, and making arrangements for their own holidays can all take their toll and lead to sleepless nights for those employees who remain behind at work.
The problem? Stress is very common. For example, we know from our research that 48 per cent of senior managers say they feel stressed all or most of the time.* Intense persistent pressure is not good for physical or mental health and can adversely affect performance. For example, stress can affect mood and a stressed manager may not even realise that being in a foul mood, impatient or unduly demanding can demotivate junior colleagues and have a knock on effect on their wellbeing and productivity.
Summer can lead to increased stress due to reduced workforce capacity, with many employees (especially those with dependent children) taking time off to make the most of warm weather and time with their families, leaving other colleagues to pick up the slack. Although making do with a reduced workforce can be challenging, holidays are vital for employees to recharge their batteries and, if they don’t – for example, by keeping on working during their holiday – they run the risk of burnout, with potentially serious long-term implications for their health. Indeed, to recover they may need to take even more time off work to recover than they would have taken had they had a proper break.
If you are worried about workforce planning, there are steps you can take to ease the pressure on employees such as hiring temporary workers to provide cover during the summer holidays. You should also encourage employees who remain at work not to overlook their own wellbeing by taking time to relax outside of working hours.
Work smarter, not harder
When you are an employee or three down, the work still has to be done. However, it may be unrealistic to expect those who remaining to cover the hours and workload of those away on holiday. Do what you can to discourage unnecessary overtime, however, and encourage staff to take regular breaks. Taking a pause is better for productivity and working smarter, not longer, can help those still at work to deal more effectively with the workload of absent workmates.
Employers should also think about staff absence with regard to what skills will be missing, when. If possible, identify two or three people who can deputise when a key worker is away on holiday to ensure business continuity. And, when planning annual leave, it is important to ensure that these key workers do not all take their holiday all at the same time.
Make sure everyone knows their role
The summer holiday period providers a great opportunity for junior team members to step up and show what they can do. However, this requires a thorough handover so everyone knows what is expected of them. This is worth its weight in gold as it saves time searching for answers. If an employee is going on holiday, make sure that tasks are assigned to other ‘owners’ for the duration of their leave and appoint a designated email checker to make sure nothing falls through the net whilst they’re away.
Take the time
Investing time in employees is good for morale and offers an opportunity to check how they’re coping. Ask your employees how they’re feeling and ascertain what pressures they are under –both at and away from work. Having a good appreciation of workload strain and how employees are feeling should make it easier to allocate tasks and maintain productivity. Measures such as flexible working can also help to avoid a stressful commute and accommodating family or other personal commitments should help to build goodwill and loyalty. Providing employees with access to confidential counselling (through an employee assistance programme, for example) can be an invaluable support for enabling employees to deal more effectively with the pressures in their lives. Providing early access to specialist medical care though health insurance is another powerful tool employers can use to support their workforce.
Summer strain is not usual and employers would be wise to undertake an employee health check at this time – from hay fever to stress. Businesses rely on their workforce and a happy, healthy team should be more productive. And, by taking simple steps such as those outlined above, you can make a big difference both to your workforce’s wellbeing and to your business’ balance sheet.
*Online survey of 1000 senior business managers, MDs, CEOs undertaken in February 2015 by market researcher OnePoll.
By Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare