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From proactive to reactive

Advice for spotting and managing stress in your practice

25 October 2018, at 10:18am

Stress can affect people in many ways. Disengagement, anxiety, inability to focus, appearing not mentally present and lacking self confidence are just some of the many signs, but some may show no outward signs.

Many of us fail to consider what our own signs of stress are. When a team works cohesively and understands colleagues’ behavioural styles, it can be easier for others to observe changes than for individuals to recognise it themselves. How you manage stress in your practice should take priority; some of the reasons for this are discussed below.

Stress is detrimental to our health, teams and businesses. All too often we become gravely aware of its effects when it’s too late. When we are not coping well with the pressures of practice, we can’t perform at our best. You may experience disengaged staff, conflict or the team fire-fighting rather than working in a considered fashion.

Nationally, 10.4 million working days are lost each year to stress, anxiety and depression. This figure would be higher if we were able to include all those days taken off for other given reasons when the true cause is stress.

Practices are often aware of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but all too often, measures are taken to protect the physical well-being of employees while neglecting mental well-being.

Many practices are not sure what they should do or how they should do it to demonstrate that they are making efforts to protect both the physical and mental health of their employees. The management standards provided by the HSE are useful guidelines for helping you to comply with the law.

Every practice must have a stress management policy. For this policy to add value, it must be dynamic and built to reflect the team and individual risks in that specific practice. Openness and honesty can be a challenge in seeking this information. Employees may not want to rock the boat or may fear appearing weak and unable to cope, so trying to establish how each team member is feeling may be handled more effectively with some external intervention.

The simplest way to understand the current situation for the whole practice, teams and individuals is to use the HSE indicator tool. This is a survey which should be completed by every team member. Focus groups then discuss the results (which can be anonymous); the output of the focus groups then builds actions for the stress management policy.

A stress management policy is a tool to identify risks and minimise or remove those risks before they become significant problems. The policy will contribute to the health of the employees and that of the business.

Some common stressors can be minimised with a few actions and behaviour changes from the top down, such as encouraging staff to take breaks, creating and supporting a culture of openness and camaraderie and recognising and rewarding people for their efforts and engagement.

Prevention is better than cure and keeping your finger on the pulse is crucial to identifying situations that are impairing performance and affecting the well-being of your employees. Take action and prioritise this for legal compliance, business performance benefits and moral obligation.

If you would like VDS Training to provide a free wellbeing audit, please contact us on 01565 743862 or via our website here.

Kirsty Sturman, BSc (Hons), Dip Stress Management and Wellbeing, is a trainer and consultant, with expertise in time management, stress management, communication, resilience, leadership and coaching.

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