Emotional well-being can be affected by both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ changes in our lives. Here are 10 business changes that can add to the stress levels of your employees.
In business, it’s important to recognize the extent to which changes may affect employee mental health, especially given we don’t always know what personal trials we are adding to in people’s lives. When it comes to mental health, it’s impossible to separate the personal from professional.
Here, we’ve ranked changes according to psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe’s ‘Social Readjustment Scale’, used extensively in studies since its development in 1967. It attributes ‘Life Change Units’ to events within a 12-month period. The higher the score, the more likely the individual is to encounter mental health conditions. For reference, the death of a spouse is rated 100 on the scale.
Dismissal or redundancy (47 Life Change Units)
It’s no surprise dismissal clocks in at the top of workplace changes that can impact the mental health of employees. If dismissal or redundancy is necessary, it’s important to support the employee as much as possible as they leave the business.
Dismissal and redundancy can also have a wider impact on teams and individual employees who can begin to question the safety of their own position or fear an increased workload. Make sure to confront this issue head-on and explain the next steps in terms of hiring replacements or restructuring teams and roles to help reduce anxieties.
Retirement (45 Life Change Units)
Retirement, while often treated as something to celebrate, can be a difficult life change for many people, whether it’s a personal choice or not.
Businesses can offer flexibility when it comes to retirement by allowing employees to slowly reduce their hours ahead of the big day to make the process easier for both the retiree and their colleagues.
Business readjustment (39 Life Change Units)
It’s important to note that while business restructures don’t need to directly affect an employee’s position in the business to have an impact. Change is one of the six key areas which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlight as being influential when looking at the risk of workplace stress. It’s critical to communicate changes well and remain transparent to safeguard employee wellbeing.
If your business is undergoing a prolonged period of change, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can support staff members by offering free access to confidential counseling. The data collected from EAP use can help identify who in your workforce is most at risk of being negatively impacted emotionally and in need of additional support during this time.
Change in financial state (38 Life Change Units)
There’s no distinction in this change between positive or negative financial states. Adjustments to remuneration, be they raises or cutbacks, can both have an impact.
Change in frequency of arguments (35 Life Change Units)
It’s important that employees tasked with defending change, championing projects or managing people are supported when they’re fighting on multiple fronts. Of course, ‘arguments’ should ideally be discussions, but it’s important line managers are aware of just how embattled their reports may be.
Change in work responsibilities (29 Life Change Units)
Again, some employees will relish the idea of more, or even less, responsibility while others will not. In any case, it’s important to note that even those that welcome more responsibility on the surface may harbor deeper concerns about them that need to be worked through.
Setting up regular informal catch-ups with a line manager can encourage disclosure if an employee feels they have too much or little responsibility and positive actions can be agreed between both parties and put into place.
Outstanding personal achievement (28 Life Change Units)
This one appears to be nothing but positive, but the pressure of achieving even a personally very meaningful goal will still add to the total level of demand that we may face and can add to stress levels and add performance pressure.
Managers should support employees through the promotion process as they adapt to their new role and extra responsibilities. Consider setting up a mentoring programme where senior managers share their experiences and outcomes with junior managers to help them progress quickly and hit the ground running.
Trouble with the boss (23 Life Change Units)
Relationship and communication breakdown between line managers and their reports is one of the more obvious candidates for this list and it’s important to make it clear to employees who they can approach when issues arise.
Indeed, conflict with managers or at work is a leading reason for people to seek help with their mental health according to a 2015 report by the OECD. Employers often do not identify behavior change and conflicts as warning signs. So, having the right awareness among managers and effective means of providing support are key to limiting distress among your workforce.
Change in working hours or conditions (20 Life Change Units)
Changes of this nature come relatively far down the list, however, they can be volatile for some employees. The score attributed here certainly needs to consider the scale of the change and what other impacts it has. For example, a cut in hours will also impact the employee’s financial state.
Consider offering staff flexible working, where they can choose the hours they work based on when they feel able to perform at their best. This can help employees find a better work-life balance and support better emotional resilience.
Holidays (13 Life Change Units)
When someone is stressed, a usual office refrain might be: ‘you need some time off, take a holiday’. But holidays can come with the heightened workload on either side of the break, financial stress, and challenging organization.
Many employees talk about ‘inbox fear’ – the number of outstanding emails and pending work requests- waiting for them on return from leave. To help reduce this culture, have an explicit agreement, colleagues won’t email an absent colleague unless absolutely necessary when they are on annual leave.
Implementing a formal handover policy for those going away can mean the employee taking a break can relax safe in the knowledge colleagues know the priority tasks and can move things forward. The rest of the team will also feel up-to-date with all outstanding projects and prepared on how best to allocate resources.
About the author: Brendan Street is the Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health.