6 ways to cut workplace stress

By Andrew Hobbs on February 2nd, 2018
  1. Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination
  2. Mental Health


MENTAL illness is one of Australia’s biggest health issues – and stress from employment is increasingly contributing to the problem.

In today’s bulletin, Holding Redlich lawyer Lauren Drummond looks at some of the organisational factors that can contribute to work-related stress affecting your employees and the way your business can tackle some of these issues.

1. Inadequate job design

There are a number of elements to job design, including the performance objectives, areas of responsibility and the key accountabilities and duties of particular roles.

If these are not clearly set out, they may result in a lack of clarity about the role, which can lead to poor performance and stress.

An employee’s level of autonomy and self-direction, as well as their ability to have input into decision-making and the amount of supervision required for each task can also have a bearing on the level of stress employees experience.

  • Ensure each role has a position description that clearly outlines key duties, management structure and reporting lines, as well as performance objectives, while allowing a level of autonomy over tasks and input in decision-making.

2. Poor organisational structure

A business that is structured with low visibility across different teams can cause employees to experience unmanageable workloads and tighter deadlines.

  • Hold regular meetings between team managers to ensure good communication across different teams and promote a team culture where employees assist each other.

A poor organisational structure might also result in employees having less access to supervisors and other resources required to perform their duties.

  • Ensure your organisational structure promotes flexible work practices and that new employees learn about the structure on induction.

3. Poor support from supervisors and inadequate resources

Poor support from supervisors and colleagues, which might grow from a lack of practical guidance – or a failure by supervisors to make themselves available – can subject employees to unreasonable deadlines and longer hours.

A lack of adequate resources (e.g. technology and refresher training) can also contribute to employees becoming stressed and unhappy.

  • Encourage supervisors to talk through problems with employees, to acknowledge when an employee has completed a task well and to recognise and address conflict.

4. Workplace conflict

Tensions over assigned work, missed promotion opportunities, unreasonable deadlines, isolating or excluding employees or harmful behaviour such as bullying can all cause or exacerbate workplace stress.

You should take proactive steps to resolve conflict early, as harmful behaviour and prolonged conflict can create a risk to the health and safety of employees if left unaddressed.

These may include:

  • training employees in what is respectful behaviour, in team building and effective communication strategies, with written policies in place to reflect these;
  • having systems in place for reporting workplace conflict, including a designated complaints officer who can deal with any complaints confidentially; and
  • having a process for escalating matters involving serious conflict or bullying/harassment.

5. Unreasonable performance management

Performance management processes that are punitive or provide highly critical feedback to employees may cause increased levels of stress. This can also result where performance is measured solely on individual or output-based targets.

While there are circumstances where a formal performance management process may need to be undertaken, you should ensure that generally, performance issues are addressed early and form part of an ongoing and constructive process.

You should make sure your performance targets are team-based as well as individual-based and that any performance reviews consider other circumstances that may be affecting performance and that employees are able to discuss areas where their job might be improved.

6. Organisational restructure and job insecurity

Stress can be caused by employees feeling insecure or uncertain about their future prospects in the workplace. This could include circumstances where there is:

  • an organisational restructure, which may lead to the redundancy of some positions;
  • poorly controlled communication in relation to the restructure/change; and
  • lack of participation by employees in the process for deciding/implementing the change.

This might perpetuate feelings of uncertainty and can commonly lead to stress-related illness. Accordingly, it is important to control the flow of information and ensure a transparent process.

When an organisational restructure is taking place, you should ensure there is a process for consulting with employees at various stages, including having a designated person who can speak about them.

Other points to consider

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to provide a safe work place – which increasingly means finding ways to help your employees avoid stressful situations that could lead to a work-related psychological injury.

The Mental Health Issues in the Workplace chapter in the Employment Law Practical Handbook deals with these issues and many more, including the factors you should consider if you need to dismiss a worker with mental health issues, and how to minimise legal risks when dealing with a mental illness.

The chapter is one of more than 70 in the Employment Law Practical Handbook, designed to help you navigate this legal minefield and secure the best result for you, your employees and your business.

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