How to help employees manage uncertainty and stress amid rising inflation
The current economic uncertainty and stress from societal pressures are a growing concern for employers and employees. Onebright’s Director of Clinical Services, Clare Price, looks at the ways stressful situations outside the workplace affect workplace mental health and shares tips on how employers can spot the signs of an employee who struggling to cope.
Uncertainty can have an enormous impact on our mental health and our quality of life. As the world continues to navigate its way out of the pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, we have a new set of uncertainties to contend with.
This uncertainty and stress about the world can lead to an overwhelming feeling of worry, which can have a severe impact on our mental health, and in turn, have negative repercussions on both our personal and professional lives.
What is ‘worry’?
Worry is normal and can be a way of ‘thinking ahead’ to events or challenges we encounter in our lives. It can make us feel anxious or apprehensive. When we worry excessively, we often think about a situation’s possible outcomes, which spirals us into focusing on worst-case scenarios. Catastrophising how events will unfold often convinces us that we are in a much worse situation than we are and can exaggerate our feelings and associated behaviours when facing difficulties.
Worry generally takes two forms, ‘real world’ worries, which are about real concerns impacting the here and now and ‘hypothetical worries’, things which don’t currently exist but might happen in the future or are not within our power to resolve.
The impact of uncertainty and stress on workplace mental health
Thinking too far ahead about events far in the future can often result in excessive stress and worry. With that being said, thinking ahead can be of benefit, too.
Mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers almost £35 billion last year, according to research published by the Centre for Mental Health.
The benefits of ‘thinking ahead’
It is important to recognise that thinking ahead can be helpful in lots of situations, for example:
- It can help us anticipate obstacles or problems. For example, thinking about how you plan your time can help you to complete the tasks you need to do during a working day.
- It allows problem-solving and planning solutions. It could be as simple as planning the quickest route for travelling to your workplace.
- It can help us to achieve our goals. For example, planning the training, skills or targets you need to achieve to gain a promotion.
Employers and business leaders need to understand the impact uncertainty and stress can have on their employees’ mental health and the steps they can take to support them.
Signs of uncertainty to look out for as an employer
It can be hard to know if uncertainty and stress impact someone, as worry is mostly an internal process. However, different signs indicate that an employee/colleague may struggle with uncertainty and stress. Here are some key behaviours to look out for, which could lead you to open a conversation with them to find out more:
- Excessive absence – Taking an unusual amount of time off work. Should a disproportionate level of absence persist, take steps to communicate with the person to understand why.
- Reduced tolerance – Overreacting to situations in the workplace.
- Increased pessimism – Focusing too much on the negative aspects of their job.
- Uncharacteristic performance issues – Struggling to concentrate or complete tasks, either day-to-day or by set deadlines, is another sign that your employee may be preoccupied with worries resulting in them being unable to focus and complete tasks effectively.
- Isolation – Reduced social skills or fewer interpersonal interactions with other colleagues, including experiencing increased concerns about what others are thinking.
- Low confidence – being self-deprecating or not acknowledging their value, turning down opportunities for development or promotion, or even plateauing in their career.
What can you do to support employees struggling with worry?
Support them to maintain balance
Well-being comes from living a life with a balance of activities that give you feelings of pleasure, achievement, and closeness. As an employer, acknowledging the importance of these for employees can make a real difference, and taking additional steps to ensure your workplace culture fosters them can have an even bigger, positive impact on the mental health of your people.
Help employees identify their worries
Another way you can help is by encouraging people to distinguish if their worries are real or hypothetical. Is it a real-world worry or a hypothetical worry? If it is a real-life worry, then problem-solving and action planning can help. If it’s the latter, maybe reflecting on whether this problem can be solved and helping them focus on things within their control can be useful.
Worry triggers a persistent physical response, but it can help remind employees that they do not have to engage with it right away. Instead, encourage them to set some time aside every day where they are allowed to express their worry and not to worry until the appointed time; often, people find their worry will have dissipated.
Worry can come from a place of concern; we worry about others when we care about them. As an employer, responding to worry with kindness and compassion can make a huge difference.
Finally, encourage your employee to practice mindfulness. Learning and practising mindfulness can help us to break free and let go of worries by staying in the present moment rather than engaging with the constant noise in our minds. Workplace mental health can also be further supported by training leadership teams with Onebright’s mental health training.
Reach out to the team at Onebright if you would like more information on how our mental health services can alleviate some of the stress you or your employees may feel during these uncertain times.