How to reduce workplace stress. The evidence.

How to reduce workplace stress. The evidence.

I have written before about an insanely toxic corporate workplace I worked in for three years… Looking back, for the life of me I can’t work out how I managed to survive it with something resembling sanity still intact (but, then again, maybe that explains a few things!).

Back then, in a survey to assess how employees felt about their workplace, our department scored a pitiful 11% of people who would have recommended the organisation to friends and family as a good place to work. Horrifying!

The reaction from middle management was to provide fewer opportunities to discuss our concerns — perhaps fearing such widespread dissatisfaction was somehow contagious. I suspect, however, that horse had already bolted! It was a very happy day when I said ‘see ya later’ to this employer. And, I have never looked back.

I’m sure those same managers weren’t innately mean or uncompassionate people, and that they did have some vision for a happy, healthy workplace in mind. But a low-stress workplace won’t just happen because that’s what leaders envisage and hope will occur. Even organisations that intend to create workplaces where everyone really wants to show up can fail. On the other hand, a happy workplace is totally possible, and there’s lots of research on what works.

The article ‘Reducing stress in the workplace, An evidence review’ summarises what we know helps create a low-stress workplace. It includes ideas to prevent stress and promote a mentally healthy workplace; to help individuals cope with stress and to build resilience; and, ways to help those who are experiencing mental health concerns.

But before we discuss actions, an important principle to uphold in all three areas mentioned – prevention and promotion; coping and resilience; helping pre-existing mental health issues – is one of inclusion. Consulting with your people about ways to create a positive place to work, and incorporating their input in a genuinely meaningful way, is of paramount importance. The review mentioned above states:

Participation is a particularly important principle in job stress intervention because it is integral to the prevention and control of job stress itself. Participation is a concrete enactment of job control, demonstrates organisational fairness and justice, and builds mutual support among workers and between workers and supervisors.

Secondly, needs assessment and measurement of key metrics are important steps for effectively creating a healthy workplace where work stress is low and mental health is promoted. While beyond the scope of this post, there’s lots of great info about how to do this in the article above which would be really valuable for organisations that are serious about creating happy, healthy workplaces.


Creating a positive work culture that promotes mental health

Building a culture where everyone wants to come to work each day can be achieved if you go about this in a systematic way. Some actions employers can take to create a positive workplace culture include:

  • awareness and clarity of people's roles and responsibilities
  • a zero-tolerance policy to bullying
  • celebrate diversity and having a zero-tolerance policy to discrimination
  • provide opportunities for staff to develop themselves
  • encourage a culture of self-care
  • provide opportunities for professional and personal development
  • encourage activities that promote a positive workplace culture


One thing is for certain: creating a positive workplace culture requires real commitment, because if a negative workplace culture has developed it’s more difficult to change in any organisation. But, with a systematic approach to changing pre-existing attitudes and behaviours of management coupled with genuine concern for your people, it is possible.

Other ways to promote a happy, healthy workplace culture include, ensuring an appropriate level of autonomy, trust and flexibility, and that staff feel valued. These approaches demonstrate mutual respect and will go a long way to creating a happy, healthy workforce.

It also can’t be over-stated how powerful it is when people feel they can simply be themselves – able to ‘turn up’ whole heartedly and bring nothing but their authentic self to the table – to creating a low-stress workplace.

Corporations such as Price Waterhouse Cooper and ANZ are recognising the value of allowing people to be themselves at work, having recently ditched their dress codes and corporate wardrobe policies.

As an article in the Australian Financial Review puts it: ‘A piece of internal communication explained the change was in keeping with the bank’s new approach to working and would allow staff to bring their “authentic selves” to work’.

Helping individuals cope with stress and building resilience

We all know that prevention is better than a cure, and creating a context that is conducive to low-stress is an important step to achieving this. There are evidence-based ways to help individuals develop knowledge and skills for less stress and more resilience such as relaxation and meditation techniques.

‘Reducing stress in the workplace’ suggests that interventions for ‘competency building and skill development’ are important at an individual level, but also at an organisational level because they are invaluable for the development of leadership and management skills. There is increasing recognition in business that these ‘soft skills’ are equally, if not more, important than ‘hard skills’ for creating successful businesses that people actually want to work at long-term.

In an age of outrageously high turnovers in many organisations, the economic value of keeping staff with excellent leadership abilities can’t be over-stated. It’s not rocket science: less stress improves performance, including innovative and problem-solving skills, and reduces turnover.

Helping people who are experiencing mental health concerns

This third area of action is of paramount importance in a time when mental health problems are so common. The overall goal here is to create a culture where stigma around mental health problems is low and understanding is high.

Simply talking openly about mental health at every level of an organisation can go a long way to reducing stigma and increasing ‘mental health literacy’. But this can be difficult and even uncomfortable for some people – we can help if you need a hand with this.

Where work or life stress has taken its toll and poor mental health is being experienced, having treatment options such as employee assistance programs readily available and being able to openly discuss problems and solutions with team members is important.

‘Return to work’ and other rehabilitation programs are also invaluable measures to put in place to support people with mental health concerns. There is overlap here: creating a positive work culture and flexible work practices may be even more important for those experiencing mental health problems.

Overall, an empathic and compassionate attitude towards employees and their needs will go a very long way to supporting people with mental health concerns, helping them to recover and be able to put their best foot forward both in and outside of the workplace.

It’s true that creating a low-stress workplace can be challenging. But with genuine appreciation for and towards your people – and implementing a strategic, step-by-step approach to creating a positive place to work – it ispossible achieve. Even in workplaces where the work itself is inherently stressful.

To sum up, there are many ways to reduce stress in the workplace. As leaders, your efforts in this area can lead to countless benefits for workers and the organisation as a whole. Hopefully this article has provided you with a summary of some of the main things you need to consider if you’re interested in cultivating and improving wellbeing in the workplace.

If you need help creating a mentally healthy, low-stress workplace, get in touch with us to learn how we can help.

We all spend so much of our life-times at work; let’s make sure it’s enjoyable, so we can accomplish truly great things!