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Combatting stress, the HR way

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Most people have been through periods of extreme stress. Periods that felt like they might never end. Stress is a curious construct, though. It can indicate a positively productive period; the result of commitment to a worthwhile project. But it can also be a sign that something is not right – that there is a lack of support, or too much work and too little time, or an indication that someone is simply not enjoying their time at work.

Stress Awareness Month, which takes place in April, is an initiative that creates awareness around the levels of stress in the workplace and the catastrophic effects it can have. HR teams should make reducing stress a priority – not just for the month, but always. Stress doesn’t only result in mental fatigue. It can cause a host of other health complaints; ones with potentially dire consequences.

In the workplace, stressed employees have often noted difficulty in thinking and concentrating, and have an impaired sense of decision-making, which results in a much lower standard of work. Having highly stressed staff will begin to impact the atmosphere around the workplace quite seriously. 

If employees are checking mails late at night, or your company has a bad culture of presenteeism, you are likely to see corresponding low levels of productivity. Growth is a by-product of people performing well, but people who are struggling with unhealthy levels of stress are likely to feel disenfranchised and disengaged with what they’re doing. This is why finding ways to deal with negative stress must be a priority in all businesses.

Where to start? 

How do you go about combatting stress in a positive way? Often, it’s a mix of company culture, external factors, and workload, not all of which fall under HR’s purview. This is why it’s not always simple to know where to direct your efforts. Previously, it was done through a combination of gossip, guesswork, and trying to get people to open up in casual conversation. There are better ways.  

Analytics is playing an increasingly valuable role, especially in improving people management and stress reduction in the workplace. Businesses are starting to see the value that HR analytics, or ‘People Science’, brings to the table in terms of office culture, providing actionable insights on common pain-points, and viewing complaints as shortfalls that can be used to drive change. Considering that you can improve your customer relationships with analytics, why not do the same with your staff?

With People Science, companies get to know their employees better by getting a deeper understanding of how they behave, which in turn allows them to drive more effective management and a focused approach to dealing with issues before they become serious. The more you know about your employees, the better equipped you’ll be to help them combat their problems and get back to enjoying their jobs.

Implementing an effective People Science project might be easier said than done. ‘Becoming A People Company’ research found that even though 83% of HR leaders believe their people decisions should be analytics-based, 92% of companies are struggling to get the insights they need. Only a third (37%) are currently using data analytics, and less than half of companies have access to metrics like performance levels, time-to-hire, or flight risks.   

There might be an understanding of the potential benefits, but several things still need to be put in place to make the vision a reality. It’s worth the effort, however, especially if you work with someone who can help smooth the process and shed light on the best way to implement analytics in the people functions.

Getting to know each other 

The biggest advantage for businesses using People Science is the ability to predict problems before they arise. Advanced analytics can help identify the signs of burnout and stress early, providing team leaders with clarity about what’s happening across the business, and allowing them to take appropriate action as necessary.

For example, if an employee is always sending mails late at night and logging in early, the system could raise the alarm on a likely case of work-related stress. HR then has the information it needs to start a conversation about how best to address the situation. Is the line manager aware? Do their team leads know about the extended hours? Is this a temporary situation, or does a proactive resolution need to be implemented? By using this predictive capability, companies can avoid stress becoming burnout, which is a great benefit to both employer and employee.

Companies need to become more aware of how to use People Science to be smarter about prevention. It’s essential to have systems that can generate actionable insights quickly and interactively. HR teams should be spending their time on people, not technology. Implementing an intelligent system that visualises insights from across the business in a user-friendly way, can give teams access to the information they need quickly, which means they are able to support their staff’s wellbeing more effectively.

Good management includes knowing your workforce. You can’t simply set goals and then walk away; you need to invest in people and look after them every day. People are the core of a business – its spirit and culture. Innovations like People Science are the next level of employee support, providing the insight companies need to really know their staff, who’s performing well, and who’s struggling with stress. Invest in People Science and invest in your people. Knowing your people will help you drive your business.