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How to cope with work-related stress

by
01 May 2016, at 1:00am

Jayne Laycock reports on her 'pick of the month’ CPD webinar which featured veterinary coach and mentor Carolyne Crowe imparting sage advice on dealing with stress.

THIS YEAR’S ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL VIRTUAL CONGRESS, organised and founded by The Webinar Vet, was an overwhelming success with 3,000 delegates registered from 54 countries, where an expanse of subject matter was delivered by a wealth of respected and well-known speakers. 

The well- being of vets is currently a hot topic within the veterinary profession and it played an integral role in this year’s virtual congress as part of a mindfulness symposium. How To Cope With Work Related Stress was just one of many webinars delivered within this symposium and was led by Carolyne Crowe.

As anyone working in the veterinary professions knows, being a vet is a job with high demands and, with many vets being high-achieving perfectionists, there is often a mismatch between our own expectations and the reality of this imperfect world. It is no surprise therefore that stress is likely to play a major role in reducing the well-being of the veterinary profession. Carolyne backed this up with a set of statistics compiled solely about veterinary surgeons which showed that:

  • 26% of the profession suffer anxiety 
  • 5% suffer clinical depression 
  • 21% have had a suicidal thought in the past 12 months

The suicide rates of vets are also four times higher than the general public and twice as high as any other healthcare professionals.

With statistics as depressing as these, it is all too obvious why it’s imperative that signs of stress are spotted early and ultimately a proactive approach is taken to minimise the risk of stress in the workplace.

What is stress?

Stress occurs when the pressure we are placed under either from work or from home is beyond our ability to cope, leaving a sense of feeling “out of control”.

Everyone is at risk from stress and its causes tend to be multifactorial, with Carolyne citing the demand/ control/support model as an example of determining who is likely to be at most risk of stress. A person who is in high demand at work but has a high degree of autonomy (or control) and is also strongly supported by their team is likely to be at lower risk of stress. However, a person who has high demand at work but has low autonomy and low support is likely to be at high risk of stress. 

Stress can manifest itself physically, emotionally and behaviourally. Physical signs include headaches, neck pain, heart palpitations and gastrointestinal problems. Emotional signs include being quick to anger, withdrawal, crying, shouting and being low in confidence. Behavioural signs include mood swings and being less decisive, more passive and more defensive.

Of course any or all of these signs may be a normal trait within our own personality, but Carolyne advised that any change from the norm should start to ring alarm bells.

Why tackle stress in the workplace? 

There are of course major financial repercussions to any business with employees suffering with stress. National statistics show that 10.4 million working days are lost each year due to stress, anxiety and depression and stress is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence.

There is also a legal obligation to deal with stress in the workplace which falls under a number of health and safety regulations, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, The Provision of a Safe Place to Work, The Equality Act 2010, and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation 1999.

Carolyne truly believes that, if asked at a tribunal, it would be extremely difficult for an employer to justify why there is no dynamic active stress policy in the workplace.

With overall well-being directly linked to well-being at work, there is an argument to say we also have a moral responsibility to our colleagues and our employees to minimise the risks associated with stress.

It is an employer’s duty of care to provide a motivating, engaging and productive work environment for their team and in doing so they will not only be creating a place where people want to work, they will also be creating a more productive and efficient team. 

How to tackle stress at work 

Carolyne refers to the non-legislation HSE “management standards” within her webinar and advises this can be an extremely useful proactive tool offering “best practice” standards to manage work-related stress.

The approach advised by management standards involves a risk assessment approach and often requires a change of culture within a practice. It is essential to have good communication between employer and employees, and everyone is encouraged to be honest and take responsibilities so that challenges can be highlighted and improvements made.

Concern has been flagged up by some practices being helped by Carolyne that by discussing certain issues associated with stress, a can of worms can be easily opened.

However, Carolyne’s response to these concerns is to advise that surely it is better to open up the lid and have a look at what’s going on underneath rather than let problems fester unnoticed.

Carolyne advises using tools such as absenteeism rates and KPIs as indicators of stress. Perhaps a vet’s KPI has reduced significantly, indicating the start of a problem? Also don’t just look at “stress” absenteeism rates; it is also worth looking at other causes of absenteeism such as back problems which could also be stress- related.

A questionnaire is also available from the HSE which asks a set of questions helping to identify the risks within your practice. It is important to give this questionnaire to every employee so they can answer honestly and anonymously.

Once the results have been collated, focus groups should be created within the practice that bring people together to discuss what can be done to minimise the highlighted risks. From these discussions a stress policy document can be created, monitored and reviewed.

Outcomes of an active stress policy The actions put in place from a stress policy document are likely to be implemented at three different levels: the individual, the job and the practice.

At the individual level, for example, certain employees at risk of stress will be coached and mentored particularly in “time and stress management”.

At job level, the structure within a workplace could be altered to allow people to have proper breaks and leave work on time. Changes may also need to be made to provide a more stimulating work environment, as well as offering more job autonomy and clarification of job roles.

Finally, at a practice level, a change in culture may be needed in order to create a more open and honest supportive culture. This usually involves improving communication, leadership and implementing strategies to improve everyone’s work/life balance.

Carolyne delivered an excellent webinar which was both thought- provoking and practical. It can be easy to forget the impact that stress can have on a business, especially with all the other demands placed upon a busy veterinary practice. However, the benefits of implementing a stress policy can be invaluable by creating a healthy and productive team which ultimately leads to improvements in practice economics, and importantly helps to create an open and honest culture.

Carolyne ended the webinar by citing some wise words from Richard Branson which make an awful lot of sense: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.”

For more information or to book on a workshop you can contact Carolyne: 

  • carolyne@carolynecrowe.co.uk 
  • www.carolynecrowe.co.uk
  • Facebook – Carolyne Crowe Coaching 
  • Twitter – @CroweCarolyne

And for those who missed the live Virtual Congress event, fear not as recordings of all the webinars can be purchased at www. theinternationalwebinarvet.com or call The Webinar Vet team on 01513 240580 for more information.