How we can all individually help reduce stress in the workplace


Recently, I spent a day at a well-being conference organised by the London branch of the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development). It was packed. I knew things were bad in the workplace, but I had no idea quite how bad.

Last year, 11.7 million workdays were lost to stress in the UK, according to Government figures. The estimated cost to the economy is anything from £5 - 30 billion per annum.

If you’re wondering what the symptoms of work-related stress might be, they can cover a huge range, such as:

•   Muscular skeletal aches and pains
•   Back pain
•   Lack of focus
•   Exhaustion and lack of energy
•   Diarrhoea or constipation
•   Indigestion and nausea
•   Headaches
•   Weight gain or loss
•   Chest pains or tightness in your chest
•   Loss of libido

We live in confusing and unpredictable times and the effects are felt in many aspects of our lives. Workload and poor management style can drive people to the edge, but we know that non-work factors also feed into the work related stress.

Life has become less compartmentalised and without some sense of control, people eventually buckle. The levels of stress and illness show that we have created environments where people suffer, instead of thrive - the way nature meant us to.

What can we do to shape a more humane workplace?

This article is not intended to offer you a ‘how to’ guide on reducing stress.

Instead, it is an important invitation to take the long view. It's an encouragement to each one of us to step back and think about what we can do individually, to help turn this tide.

Society is made up by all of us together. We each have a role to play in the communities we inhabit. And it’s time we take an active role in shaping a more humane world.

Kick the stigma of mental ill health

Take a stance to end the discrimination against mental ill health in the workplace.

Have the courage to acknowledge your own vulnerability. It's part of the human condition. Talk about it to the right people. This is not about self-disclosure for the sake of it, but about fostering an attitude of acceptance of who we are ‘in the round’.  Once we accept our own ‘pain’ in this way, we become more tolerant and supportive of others. Check out how you react to other people’s mental illnesses. Think about how you would you like to be supported at work, when the chips are down?

Look after yourself 

Self-care is the most crucial investment you can make. After all, you have but one body and one life. We only need to do small things to kick-start the process of ‘de-stressing’ or rebalancing our lives a bit more. 

Whether this is to be more vigilant about what you do with your time, which emails to answer and which not; or, disconnect from emails after work and at weekends and holidays – there are digital programmes to help us with this – or whether to go out for some sunshine at lunchtime.

Changing the position of a desk or adding some personal things to the space around the desk, can go a long way towards making the office feel less clinical and thereby more conducive to staying connected to your values.

Noticing (and dealing with) your own patterns

Our patterned responses stop us from being fully present and therefore less effective in our communication and performance.

Think of times when you are too accommodating, or the opposite: when you take too much responsibility for a whole group. How easily we flip into ‘victim’ or ‘martyr’ mode.

This is the time when an experienced practitioner can help change that behaviour. Just like a coach who supports in extending one's capacity from a daily walk to running a marathon. We can learn to build on character strengths too and avoid pitfalls. The benefits will ripple out and improve other efforts and relationships.

Invest in yourself and specialist well-being programmes

To be a good manager at work, it's imperative to bear your personal values in the atmosphere, care, encouragement and expectations at work.

Your best efforts and loyalty will keep people motivated and invite them to go the extra mile. They will feel rewarded by the shared sense of belonging and common purpose.

In our fast changing contemporary world we need specialists at hand to help make (emotional) transitions and teach us how to become more flexible and resilient.

It's time this service becomes part of every modern work set-up – not an option we shamefacedly resort to when we’ve lost morale.

Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent and the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.

Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.

Renée provides specialist coaching for executive stress and stress reduction programmes for teams.