In part 1 of our blog, we discussed simple (and often inexpensive) actions that HR, leaders and individuals can take to reduce stress and increase happiness at work. Here's the second instalment of our list.
You can read part 1 here.
Take back control: use diaries, to-do lists and take time to plan and review – and to recognise success.
One cause of stress at work is loss (or lack) of control. It can become very stressful if we're always playing catch up and fighting fires. Sometimes we have no choice, and it can feel particularly difficult in junior roles when we often feel like we're at the end of the chain and have to deal with whatever lands on our desk - but most people could bring a little more order to their working life with practice.
Whether you have the time and space (and workflow) that allows you to stop, review and plan once a month, once a week, once a day or for five minutes every hour, it's a good idea to take some time to plan your workload so that you're not constantly chasing. Work out what your goal is.
To-do lists, refreshed daily, can help you to exert some control. There are few things more likely to make your head spin at the end of a long day than knowing you've got loads to do tomorrow, but not being really sure what it is - great if you enjoy losing sleep!
As part of a to-do list, you can write down five things you really want to achieve today, and aim to go home feeling fulfilled by ticking them off. You can end the day (or week) feeling even more positive by writing down five good things that happened in that period.
If all of the above sounds like a project, that's the point. Treating ourselves as a project can help us to feel better about ourselves. Many people start to do this but give up because it takes a bit of effort. The trick is to keep practising these processes until they become habit. Then it starts to get easier.
Know where you stand now, and map your future
Get continual feedback and work on your personal development plan with your manager. There is nothing wrong with initiating this yourself if the environment you work in doesn't openly encourage employee development. It's easy for me to say this, but if your employer has a problem with you wanting to discuss your future with the company, you might want to review whether you're in the right place! Of course, this should be part of the diligence you perform when interviewing for a role, or, if you're not happy where you are, in the search for your next job.
If you feel appreciated, know where you stand and know what you've got to do to be where you want to be, there's a much higher chance that you'll come to work excited to do your job.
If you come to work excited and motivated, that promotes and allows for good mental health, and if everyone around you is the same, that promotes a very healthy working environment.
Of course, mental health issues are complex and serious, and even in the healthiest working environment, people will suffer from mental ill-health. What's important is that they feel supported and don't have to suffer in silence.
Keep your work in perspective
Your sense of value and self-esteem, and indeed the value in life, comes from a lot of different sources that can include some or all of: friends, family, work, relationships, hobbies, your home, voluntary or community work and more. The more value and variety you can uncover in each of these areas, the more fulfilled you are likely to feel.
Work is only one of many aspects of your life that are important to your personal happiness. Remember that there are others, and don't let work loom too large. It's easy to make a big problem out of a little one if you do. There is more to life than work.
Let your hair down
It's also important to let your hair down once in a while, whether it's celebrating success with colleagues or just going out with friends.
Don't buy into the fear
The world is a smaller place than it used to be. News can travel from one side of the world to the other in the time it takes to send a tweet.
Social media doesn't just report the news. It also creates an instant and gigantic echo chamber where any news is magnified to the power of n by everyone's immediate and often strident response to it.
As well as being a force good and for positive change, it can therefore make things seem worse than they are.
So if it feels like there's more of a barrage of bad news now than there has ever been before – it's because there is more noise - more messaging through more platforms. But that doesn't mean the world really is a worse place, or that it is out to get you.
The media fear factor is usually just a way to get you to buy a newspaper, magazine, or to cross a paywall.
For employers and managers:
As part of your company values, encourage people to look after themselves and others, and foster a supportive team spirit, regular catch-ups and open communication.
Have post-sickness catch ups with staff where you check on their general wellbeing.
Involve your teams, collaborate with them on their development, ensuring it is a two-way conversation. Get to know your team as individuals and recognise what motivates them. You don't have to be everyone's best friend, but investing time and energy into knowing your people is invaluable. And why wouldn't you? They're your most valuable resource.
Coach, develop and train
Coach your teams and encourage development, training and learning – including self-learning and self-directed study.
Recognise the value of individuals learning and gaining skills that aren't necessarily directly related to their day job but help to round them out as individuals and professionals (e.g. emotional intelligence, coaching). Provide mechanisms for this kind of learning if you can.
Finally, a caveat...
I am not suggesting in this article that all businesses should foster happy-go-lucky, carefree environments. Clearly, businesses must be effective, or they will fail. But there is no reason why businesses can't support their staff, or help them to help themselves without breaking the bank.