Stress is a perfectly normal part of life. It comes and goes like the sea's waves, sometimes brushing against our toes and other days splashing us from head to foot. On days where it feels overwhelming, stress can be a genuine hazard to our emotional and even physical wellbeing.
Introducing healthy workload management into your business isn’t just a nice idea; it can significantly improve employee health, happiness, and yes, even productivity. This is especially important during a time when world events have become a very real contributing factor to external stress – impacting our work and personal lives.
At GetBusy, we help a variety of industries work smarter every day. One of our key solutions is to help turn a heavy workload into bite-sized tasks that get done. It’s a key solution to help alleviate stress and prioritise workloads, but it’s not the only way your business can help employees.
In the modern age, there is one thing we have in abundance: data.
Thanks to the internet, sophisticated models can be built on a person’s likes, dislikes, habits, family connections, and even if they own a pet. This is in large part thanks to social media and search engines. It’s through freely available data for search terms that we can see how stress may be affecting the nation.
Google Trends data for the United Kingdom since 2020 shows a clear growth in terms of stress-related searches.
Here we can see the chart for the search term ‘burnout’, for example.
From March 2020, we can see that there was a clear spike at the start of the first lockdown. This petered out as the summer months saw restrictions lifted but became more and more frequent again as tiers, and then second and third lockdowns were enforced.
The search term ‘stress management’ has also seen some interesting trends since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. It seems to have fallen during the first lockdown and over the summer months before increasing. As we progress further into this third lockdown – which began 4th January 2021 – ‘stress management’ searches have risen sharply.
Winter stress levels are typically higher too. We feel the effect of dark winter months and the cold weather, but the added stressors of living through a historical event have taken a toll too.
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Even the most balanced of workloads can produce stress points. However, it’s the point where the workload tips into 'too much' that productivity plummets. Unsurprisingly, only 5% of employees who took part in the Perkbox 2020 Workplace Stress Survey found that stress made them more productive. Healthy levels of stress are motivating. Too much stress is demotivating (for 95% of us).
It’s a fine balance to strike at the best of times. Worse, it differs vastly from person to person. One employee’s optimum workload is another’s burnout. Luckily, there are several ways that employers can help ease this strain on a day-to-day basis:
Picture this: a deadline is fast approaching, you have been aware of it for days, but you know that there is no way you'll be able to complete it. Why? Because you are currently juggling five other similarly important deadlines and have no time to spend on yet another.
By setting realistic deadlines you can reduce staff stress significantly. With task management software like GetBusy you can see what people are working on and set tasks in line with their workload.
Feeling like other team members aren’t pulling their weight can be a big stress point within teams. Collaboration is key, but how can you hold other people accountable without making them feel you're ‘snooping’ on them?
GetBusy allows for projects to be easily shared with the team so key stakeholders can overview progress. You can also have private tasks or notes, so not everything has to has to be based around collaboration.
Talking isn’t always seen as a good thing in the workplace. Talk too much and productivity goes down. Talk too little and stress increases, meaning productivity also goes down. It’s another balancing act that has been made harder across 2020, with the switch to home working making us feel more isolated than ever before. There are a few ways you can work to fix this:
One prominent thing to keep in mind is the growing importance of work/life balance. When working from home, it is all too easy for workers to start earlier, work later and feel like they never really get to ‘switch off’. Make sure that a set schedule is in place so that everyone knows it’s okay to walk away from work at the end of the day. Even if that’s just relocating from kitchen table to the couch.
One of the biggest problems of a heavy workload is the feeling of urgency. It pushes workers to keep going. ‘Just five more minutes’ turns into a full workday with no break quite quickly. Outside of an office, this is harder to manage but still important. Vocally encouraging breaks, suggesting a quick walk outside and even scheduling in a quick break can help, and vitally, lead by example.
Ultimately, you can’t make the work go away, but you can introduce the right technology and healthy habits to help make it more manageable.
In 2020, our way of working transformed dramatically. The discussion around remote working mental health and how this has changed workload management has been huge. After all, a heavy workload is stressful enough without the outside pressures of a global pandemic weighing down.
Studies have found that 25% of homeworkers have struggled with isolation, loneliness and feeling disconnected from colleagues. Being unable to switch between home and work life, feeling the need to be constantly available, and straining familial relationships are other issues home workers have raised. But at the same time, many also recognise the benefits of saving money on commuting and the quality time they have gained back.
With positives and negatives aspects, it’s hard to say just yet what the full impact on the workforce’s mental health has been.
According to the Perkbox Stress Survey, some of the most common forms of employer stress management policies include work from home, flexible working hours, and regular one-to-one’s between managers and employees. If these continue at the current scale, it may be that employees find more benefit once they have a choice.
As 2021 progresses and a more flexible office and home balance is put into place, it will be interesting to see how these statistics evolve. Will the 2021 vaccinated employee feel less stressed in comparison to their pre-pandemic self? Only time will tell.
Stress is a normal part of working life, but that makes it more important to manage effectively. Heavy workloads are avoidable with a transparent, easy to digest, and accountable way of working. Try GetBusy for free today and see how it could transform the way your team prioritise workloads and manage stress.
And remember to cut yourself some slack; this last year has been tough.