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Fiona Mackintosh: More than motivation

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Tattooed bearded worker in overalls having hard day on the work. Storage of import and export firm interior.
Tattooed bearded worker in overalls having hard day on the work. Storage of import and export firm interior.

In my last article, I shared the six key areas of work that need to be managed effectively to promote healthy employee wellbeing, which not only reduces stress and absenteeism but also boosts productivity.

This month I want to focus on one of the first areas that the HSE identify as being critical for promoting employee wellbeing and increasing your bottom line: managing the demands placed on your employees.

The HSE standard is that “employees indicate that they can cope with the demands of their jobs, and systems are in place locally to respond to any individual concerns”.

The key concept here is managing what we call “the work” – all those tasks, projects or jobs associated with keeping your business running smoothly. With technology in our pockets and remote connections, it’s become commonplace for people to respond to emails and deadline stressors in the evenings, at the weekends and even while on holiday.

It’s never been easier for people to take their work home with them and to do even more after hours, giving false belief that they are on top of their workload, all the while taking away from their personal lives. But at what cost?

HSE research revealed that workload accounted for 44 per cent of workplace stress – by far the biggest contributor, way above challenges such as bullying or lack of support. If we then consider the International Stress Management Association’s definition of stress – “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them” – it is evident why considering the demands of someone’s job is imperative to ensure their wellbeing.

When thinking about the demands an employee faces in their job, it’s important to consider their workload, their work patterns and their working environment. The demands should be proportionate to the agreed working hours and be both adequate and achievable.

Working long hours is endemic in some organisations and often seen as something necessary to achieve recognition or promotion and even worn as a badge of honour.

Often, this is perpetuated by senior managers who never seem to stop, when in fact, they should be leading by example and establishing a healthy work-life balance and encouraging others to follow suit.

I am confident no employer sets out to overwork their staff, so just how do organisations end up placing excessive demands upon employees?

Very often it is caused by workload slip, with extra tasks and deadlines being added to the growing pile and nothing taken away until an employee is left overwhelmed. If your employees have more work to do in a week than they can complete in normal working hours, then they are overburdened, leaving no wriggle room for those extras that often arise.

It’s not just about the amount of work though, it’s also about the kind of hours workers are expected to carry out: evenings, overnights, irregular shifts, being on call, all place higher demands on employees. Is there perhaps a better way?

The pandemic has offered us an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our approach to work-life balance, and given rise towards more flexible scheduling practices that allow employees greater freedom and less stress from heavy workloads or long hours.

Another aspect of demands that we should consider relates to the skills and abilities of each employee. The best way to avoid creating more stress for employees is by finding the right job role for them.

Matching people’s skills and abilities with what they need makes them feel confident about carrying out their responsibilities, which will lead you towards greater productivity in your business!

Developing psychological safety in the workplace, where individuals can openly express ideas, questions, or fears, promotes honesty and trust. Employees should feel confident and be encouraged, to talk to their managers about any concerns they have around the demands that are being placed upon them. Most importantly managers must listen to concerns raised, and address them.

Setting an employee up for success is the best way to go. After all, how would you feel if it were your spouse, son, or granddaughter being affected by having excessive demands placed upon them? Would you not want their employer to manage those demands with empathy and compassion?

Fiona Macintosh is a member of the International Stress Management Association and holds a CPCAB accredited Level 5 Diploma in Mental Health and Wellbeing Awareness. Fiona can help you carry out a stress risk assessment, develop a wellbeing strategy and deliver wellbeing awareness training.

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