National Stress Awareness Month: Why is stress so bad for us?

12 April, 2021

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Millions of us around the UK are experiencing high levels of stress and it is damaging our health. Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time and is a significant factor in mental health problems including anxiety and depression, as well as also being linked to physical health problems.   Pick Everard Senior HR Advisor, Jennifer Cotterill, discusses what we are doing to help our staff combat stress.

 What are Pick Everard doing to combat stress?

Held since 1992, April marks Stress Awareness month. Given the events of 2020 which saw the world succumb to the global Coronavirus pandemic, stress awareness month is very topical at the moment. Research from the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of adults in the UK have felt so stressed over the last year that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. This isn’t surprising given the isolation and challenges such as caring responsibilities and home schooling.

In addition, the Stress Management Society recently worked on a research project with technology giant Huawei to collect data on stress from over 2000 adults in the UK. As part of this project, they found that 65% of people have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. This was related to disconnection (isolation), uncertainty and loss of control.

We can see that stress both at home and at work has been increasing for many of us in the UK. Whether that is additional stress or whether we are experiencing damaging levels of stress for the first time it is clear that stress is having a negative impact on many of us during this current crisis.

Why is stress so bad for us?

At some point in our lives we will have experienced stress. It usually comes from an external source such as work or in our personal lives. We do need stress; stress can be useful for getting us to respond quickly to threats which in the modern day can be deadlines or responding in an emergency. Our body is geared up for fight or flight mode and we react accordingly. Stress is a key driver in this process. However, where stress becomes a problem is when it is frequent and prolonged. Our bodies are not designed to live under such pressure and so we can start to see an increase in:

  • Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression
  • Heart disease
  • Problems with our immune system
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive problems

These are all clearly damaging to our body and can have a large impact if left unchecked.

How are Pick Everard supporting staff with stress?

As a result of our activities around stress and wellbeing, we are delighted to receive our highest score in Wellbeing when we took part in the Best Companies Survey in 2020. The Best Companies survey measures businesses on 8 factors of engagement across the workplace, with Wellbeing being one of them. We were delighted that our staff recognised our efforts in this area and demonstrated high levels of wellbeing. But during one of the most unsettling experiences of most people’s lives, just how did we achieve such a result? We take a look at the steps we took to support our people and reduce the stress in their lives at a difficult time.

COVID as a People Crisis

Communicate with honesty and transparency

As soon as the COVID crisis hit, it was clear that this was going to be a) a people crisis and b) a mental health crisis. The uncertainty and loss of control was very clear to us and we anticipated that our people might struggle. Therefore, we launched a programme of communication with our Managing Partner, Duncan Green holding a monthly question and answer session so that our people could hear any news or developments from the very top.

Find out how people are feeling

We needed to know how our people were coping with working remotely and dealing with the COVID crisis. In order to understand this, we put together a Morale Survey which allowed us to understand how our people were coping, particularly around stress and mental health. This allowed us to plan the most effective initiatives in order to support employees through a very difficult period.

Design support and Interventions

We developed packages of support to help our employees deal with stress and uncertainty, which included:

  • Designing a virtual staffroom for everyone within the business to spend time together based on shared interests.
  • Producing a ‘Coping with Furlough Guide’ for those on furlough leave.
  • Producing a ‘Winter Wellbeing Guide for Lockdown 2.0’ in November 2020.
  • Creating ‘Staying Positive and Building Resilience’ Toolkits.
  • Training an additional 15 Mental Health First Aiders to support our teams across the business.
  • Wellbeing calls to all 500 employees within the business.
  • Putting in place a ‘Call a Colleague’ initiative, designed to prevent loneliness and increase cohesion across the business.
  • Providing Stress Support plans for staff who need them.

Continual tracking and measuring

In order to continue to support our people, we are taking part in a trial mood monitoring programme called Moodbeam. Over 70 people within the firm are taking part in the trial which allows us to see self-rated positive or negative moods in the group of participants. When we see negative mood, we can contact the person and check how they are and offer tailored support to them. At the end of the trial, we will be offering the 70 Moodbeams to others within the business to allow us to support more people within Pick Everard.

We have also just launched our Lockdown 3.0 survey which is checking on the mental health (amongst other things) of our employees. This allows us to understand who might need extra support during this lockdown and devise a package of support to prevent stress and mental ill-health.

The Covid 19 crisis has reinforced the message that mental health matters. We know the detrimental effect that stress can have on our bodies, minds and performance which is why we are committed to playing our part to reduce the stress epidemic and support our employees to be happy, healthy and productive.

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