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By Phil Sproston, Regional Manager UK and Ireland, Top Employers Institute
By Phil Sproston, Regional Manager UK and Ireland, Top Employers Institute

Is community the key to tackling workplace stress?



The best businesses are investing heavily in creating a strong sense of community says Phil Sproston, Region Manager (UK and Ireland) at Top Employers Institute

Stress Awareness Month is hardly new – it’s been going for 30 years – but its place in the calendar of awareness days has never been more important. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, YouGov research, in the largest known study of stress levels in the UK, found that nearly three-quarters of people (74%) had been so stressed in the previous year that they had felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

The consequences of stress are serious. Three in five (61%) of those who felt stressed also report feeling anxious, while over half (51%) said that they feel depressed as a result. The past two years clearly haven’t helped, with an increased sense of social isolation and loneliness.

It's appropriate, therefore, that the official theme of Stress Awareness Month for this year is “Community”.

Inclusion for all, driven by all

The last two years have altered our sense of what a workplace community really means. Adversity has made the workplace community central to well-being, and resulted in employers becoming more active in providing  pro-active support to employees.

Research among our Certified Top Employers in the UK shows that over three-quarters (76%) say that they consistently practise inclusive leadership. While this is encouraging, the big change has come in the way that a sense of inclusion and community is seen as being owned by everyone, not just leaders. 85% of organisations say that they now involve their employees in building an inclusive culture, a sharp increase from 70% only a year earlier.

Building community from the ground up

A good example of a grass-roots approach to inclusion is found at Konica Minolta, with its Breathe Network. This is an employee-run group aimed at raising awareness and leading initiatives on well-being in all its aspects. The business says that it anchors absolutely everything it does around the mental, physical or social well-being of its employees. It shares resources and encourages conversations and engagement on many topics, including the importance of looking after our own overall wellbeing, the health benefits of getting outside, staying active, eating healthily and the science behind why good sleep is so crucial.

YouGov also suggests that nearly four in ten (37%) of those who are stressed feel lonely as a result. This is where the sense of workplace community becomes so important. Konica Minolta also recently re-introduced its “Tea Room Roulette” programme. This is an initiative designed to replicate the connection points under pressure now that more employees are working remotely. Every 2 weeks, those who have signed up are randomly allocated 2-3 others to have a virtual chat. Meeting others who they would not normally cross paths with helps to bring the whole employee community closer together.

Sometimes the root causes of stress lie outside of the workplace. Cost of living pressures are a good example. YouGov research for example, suggests that of those who feel stressed, more than one in five cite debt as the main reason. Enlightened employers are therefore getting involved in areas previously considered outside of their span of influence. Nearly nine in ten (89%) of our Top Employers, including Konica Minolta, now offer financial education, compared with 80% a year earlier.

Community through well-being

Over at Pfizers UK’s site at Sandwich, Kent, the senior leadership team has invested heavily in building their community through well-being, to ensure colleagues feel supported and happy at work, and have a solid and sustainable life balance. The business’s Well Placed initiative, for example, is all about people having the right resources and interventions to help them feel happy and supported at work.

Activities include a Manager & Colleague Workshop Series, a full day interactive workshop aimed at raising awareness of mental health in the workplace and helping colleagues to identify practical steps to increase their resilience. And the business also has 27 mental health first aiders being trained and made available to colleagues in need of support.

A strong sense of community is not just about remedying poor mental health. It is as much about inspiring one another. Pfizer has been providing this through inspirational talks and speeches, including from Dame Kelly Holmes on how she battled against depression earlier in her career and how she overcame its challenges. And it provides well-being webinars, including ones on encouraging positive psychology, recognising and working with Imposter Syndrome and many other subjects besides.

Molson Coors has adopted a similar approach, inviting in external speakers such as Double Olympian Jack Green to share their experience on staying resilient in stressful and pressure environments. It also has a well-being hub with a dedicated area for mental health, including stress risk assessments, resilience training and much more, alongside 100 mental health champions offering support to its community.

In conclusion, the best businesses have seen and understood the serious consequences of stress on those who work for them. Now they are redefining how a workplace community should think, feel and behave to tackle stress head on. Now it is up to others to follow their lead.