For Stress Awareness Month, Head of People, Wellbeing and Equity Ama Afrifa-Tchie reflects on stress, and how employers can support their people when events outside of work impact them. 

CONTENT WARNING: This blog contains content that some may find triggering.
As I sat last week contemplating how to begin my blog on how to manage and support workplace stress, a breaking news flash push notification popped up on my phone. Sadly, it was news I, along with many others, hoped not to read.

It was news that the body found by police in Epping Forest lake was confirmed to be missing student Richard Okorogheye. My heart sunk and in the moment of sadness I said a prayer for his mother and all his loved ones.

Last night, we heard the verdict of the trial regarding the murder of George Floyd. Like many others, I felt anxious and devastated as I followed the trial and heard the witness accounts and expert opinions.

This time, the verdict provided an element of justice through accountability, for George Floyd, his family and People of Colour and Black people across the world. However, to quote Bernice King "justice is a continuum" and much work still needs to be done.

These devastating stories, are just two of many stories and events that will, no doubt, have impacted people’s mental health and wellbeing. In recent weeks we have also heard the terrible news of the death of Sarah Everard, and we continue to hear stories on the impact that COVID-19 is having on our nation and globally.

All these events are not just triggering, but will most certainly impact our mental health and wellbeing of people, some more so than others. There will sadly be more stories like them.

Households across the UK will be discussing these events in some shape or form with family members, work colleagues or friends. Some communities will be directly impacted more than others. It's safe to say there is a possibility these events could also have an impact on work performance, and stress levels directly or indirectly.

There will also be events, stories and names that not all of us will have heard about, which we should keep in mind. It is rare a week will go by without something happening which will have an impact on our people, whether you have been exposed to it or not.

The Health and Safety Executive highlights six causes of stress at work; the demands of the job, the control an employee has over their work, the support they receive from managers and colleagues, relationships in the workplace, the employee’s role in the originations, and organisational change and how it’s managed.

However, as we all know, there are factors outside of our work environment that impact our stress levels while we are at work. As many of us will have found over the last year, it's difficult to leave our 'home' life at the door when we work, particularly if our 'home' space is the same as our 'work' space.

We will also have our own significant life events to contend with, such as job changes, getting married, moving home, the death of a loved one, financial loss, health shocks (the list goes on and on), all of which can have an adverse impact on our stress levels and mental health and wellbeing.

Add in the discrimination (which is also proven by research to have detrimental effects on employee wellbeing) faced by other marginalised groups in the workplace, the microaggressions faced by People of Colour and Black people, and these compounding factors can build our stress levels to the point they become overwhelming and emotionally draining.

The 2020 CIPD Health and Wellbeing report showed that stress is one of the biggest causes of long-term absence and is the third highest cause of short-term absence behind minor illnesses and musculoskeletal injuries. It is no surprise based on the above that more than a third (37%) of respondents said that stress-related absence has increased over the past year.

Work does not take place in a vacuum, and good employers and managers will recognise that stress factors of all kinds will impact our wellbeing at work. The best will also realise that experiences are not universal, and certain factors, such as the stories we have had to process over the last few weeks, may impact certain people more than others.

Knowing where to signpost those who may be experiencing these factors is an important skill for any manager or Mental Health First Aider. Depending on your workplace, there may be networks within your own organisations, but here are some examples of resources and services that are freely available to access:
A small amount of stress is natural, and can even be good for us, motivating us in our work. When multiple stress factors combine, or we have a prolonged period, we know the concequences are rarely positive. Knowing how to manage and support stress in an appropriate manner is something we should all strive for.

This Stress Awareness Month, let's try to recognise stress comes in all shapes and sizes, research and remember where our support measures are, and as always, be kind to ourselves and take each day one day at a time.