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Stress Awareness Day: How to help project team members cope with and prevent stress

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During long and complicated projects, it is common to experience increased stress, but managers must understand how to help team members cope with it and prevent it from developing further into a source of additional mental health issues. 

With an annual average of 40% of UK sickness absence and an estimated £42bn lost by businesses due to poor mental health, it's important to recognise the impact of mental illness on employees.

This Stress Awareness Day, here’s how project professionals can identify team members struggling and how they can support their mental wellbeing in the workplace.

First steps 

As a manager, the ability to identify when a team member is struggling with their mental health is the first step in offering support. 

Look for key signs of stress, such as increased irritability, deterioration in work quality, rapid mood change and lack of motivation.

Many training courses are also available to improve understanding of the causes, signs and solutions of poor mental health, which can benefit managers in their efforts to support and lead team members more effectively.

Encourage communication 

Over half of employees claim stress is the biggest consequence of poor communication at work, with common barriers to effective communication including language, cultural diversity and physical separation.

Remove barriers by providing diversity and communication training to employees, teaching team members to better understand differences between colleagues and adjust communication styles accordingly.

With over 24% of UK workers now hybrid working, address physical separation by encouraging one-to-one check-ins to discuss personal and professional needs.

Additionally, using workplace messaging tools can be helpful in streamlining communication and making remote workers feel connected when away from the office.

Monitor workloads

Project managers are experts at effectively planning projects to ensure each stage is successful from concept to completion. However, less than one in five people use an effective time management system – which can lead to high stress levels and even burnout.

Studies show tracking workloads with online time-management tools benefits both managers and employees by decreasing stress and providing a better basis for delegation. 

Teach team members to use tools to maximise efficiency – prioritising tasks and tracking time spent on them, and compartmentalising their workload.

Not only does this increase productivity, it also reduces stress by preventing tasks from spilling into evenings or weekends by giving employees a bird’s-eye view of their daily and weekly task loads.

Encourage work-life balance 

In many industries, overtime can be inevitable and occasionally expected. However, ensuring team members have an appropriate break from work stress is crucial for emotional wellbeing.

One study found 60% of employees experience work-life conflict, with the biggest challenge being the number of hours spent at work.

Encourage team members to take regular breaks; work smarter, not harder, within set work days; and promote solutions to lighten the strain, such as flexibility around deadlines, work hours and approaches. 

Establish ways of working that suit employees’ individual needs – for example, providing leeway around shift times so they can work when they’re most productive or around other responsibilities, instead of the standard 9 to 5. 

Simple benefits such as this also help to build trust among employees who feel supported and valued. 

Employees should also feel they can lean on colleagues for support when workloads become unmanageable. This can be done through hosting regular collaborative team meetings to provide visibility over capacities and looming project deadlines. 

Furthermore, managers should set an example by leaving work on time each day, using their holiday time and avoiding answering emails outside work hours.

Listen and learn 

Establishing a feedback culture at work and welcoming mental health conversations is one of the most effective ways to understand struggles and help team members cope.

Not only can this strengthen the relationship between managers and teams, but it promotes an open and understanding environment that destigmatises emotional struggles. 

Organise regular feedback sessions, such as monthly one-to-one meetings between managers and employees where work issues can be raised alongside personal concerns. This helps to naturalise conversations around mental health, which is seen to be valued just as highly as work priorities.

This could be as simple as ending meetings with questions such as, ‘Is there anything we can do to support your well-being at work?’ As employees begin to see their concerns addressed regularly, they will be more likely to raise concerns earlier – when interventions are most effective.

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