how should we deal with the causes of work-related stress

Pauline Miller Judd, Associate Professor, Edinburgh Napier Univesity, Scotland.

This article was first published in 2020 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 3 no 2 

Pauline Miller Judd is an Associate Professor at Edinburgh Napier Univesity in Scotland.  She is an accredited coach, helping teams and individuals. In this article she explores an entrepreneurial approach to dealing with the causes of work-related stress…

In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, the issue of wellbeing, work-related stress and mental health is on the rise. 

In the UK, a recent labour force survey highlighted that 54% of all working days lost were reported as being due to work related stress, depression or anxiety. Another survey showed that 79% of workers reported they commonly experienced work-related stress, an increase of 20% since 2018. These results also showed sectoral differences with those working in local and national government most likely to experience work-related stress, alongside sectors such as media, healthcare and education.

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MIND, a mental health charity, highlight the range of stress triggers which include long hours of work, unrealistic expectations or workloads, job insecurity, poorly managed change and difficult interpersonal relationships ( Work-related stress also impacts on an individual’s home life, with increased anxiety at home, loss of sleep and an increase in unhealthy habits. As the cost of days lost rises, companies are increasingly looking to put in place measures to support the wellbeing of staff, but with little overall effect as the majority of measures deal with the symptoms of stress and not the cause.

As the need to adapt to constant change becomes the norm for many sectors, companies are bombarded with experts, consultants, advisors and mentors all offering prescriptive interventions which are simply antidotes to historic problems. Companies focus on helping employees manage stress or enhancing training and developing skills which in isolation do not develop an organisation or provide robust solutions. What companies need is the ability for their staff to be innovative, resilient, agile and work as high-performing teams in a more entrepreneurial way, developing their own solutions and the ability to solve their own problems. 

When faced with change or difficult situations most organisations focus on increased targets, more top down leadership and ways to achieve more whilst cutting costs, all approaches which increase the work-related stress of staff. However a more entrepreneurial approach is for an organisation to underpin its growth by developing flatter structures, giving more autonomy to local teams, increasing engagement by giving more ownership to staff, reducing the target culture and enhancing the ability of all staff / teams to learn in the workplace – all which go against traditional managerial thinking.

This entrepreneurial approach increases the engagement of staff in the organisation, moving them from a purely transactional relationship with their place of work to one in which they are emotionally invested.

The focus on staff engagement, autonomy and learning reduces stress triggers, improves wellbeing and creates a culture of openness and shared responsibility. In this enhanced nurturing environment, employees are more likely to feel empowered to suggest creative and innovative solutions to company issues, engaging with active entrepreneurial thinking and embedding these approaches into the organisational culture.

Organisations which focus on the causes of work-related stress and overhaul their structures and cultures accordingly are therefore more likely to innovate and outperform competitors than those which focus on dealing with the symptoms of work-related stress. 

Is it time for your organisation to develop its entrepreneurial approach and rethink how it addresses issues of work-related stress and wellbeing? ◼️