CEOs Need to Tackle the Root of the Stress Awareness Problem

There are plenty of businesses that aim to deal with stress in the workplace through aftercare HR initiatives: sponsored therapy sessions, on-site yoga lessons, free gym memberships and so on. However, whilst these initiatives are worthy and well-intentioned, they aren’t doing enough to tackle the root of the problem.

A complimentary massage isn’t going to cut it, says Daniele Fiandaca, Co-founder of culture change business Utopia.

Namely, if CEOs really care about the mental health of their employees, they need to confront and change the always-on, presenteeism culture that is commonplace in many of our offices.

The overtime capital of Europe

The UK has been called the ‘unpaid overtime capital of Europe’, with recent research revealing that full-time employees are working an average of over six extra hours a week. This equates to more than £5,000 of their time year, but, more worryingly, it’s severely impacting their mental health.

It’s a vicious cycle. The more overtime that employees work, the less time they will have to spend time on the self-care strategies that are needed to help them avoid stress-related burnouts.

Through our work, we’ve seen how businesses can introduce simple hacks to create environments where employees are less likely to suffer from work-related mental health problems.

A simple thing like regular, diarised meetings where managers catch up with their teams about non-work issues can offer a safe space for employees. They can share any challenges in their personal or work lives that are contributing to their stress levels.

Similarly, you can help your staff get the respite they need to perform better by enforcing strict rules about not responding to emails when on holiday and making sure people take up their full holiday allocations. Employees shouldn’t be expected to respond out of hours unless they have come to a prior arrangement with the business that less traditional working patterns will fit better with their schedule.

Additionally, if you allow your employees to feel truly comfortable about ‘leaving loudly’ and taking rest and recovery days to avoid burnout or taking afternoons out to watch their children compete in sports days, then you won’t lose people under a veil of ambiguous sick days.

The CEO’s duty

However, the greatest responsibility lies at the feet of the business leaders. These are the people who set the tone of the entire business as soon as they walk through the door, and it’s up to them to ensure that the culture is an inclusive, accepting one.

In a business landscape where creative thinking is the primary driver of growth, you need to ensure that the workplace is a safe space – where employees feel comfortable to deliver their best work and produce their most creative ideas.

From a management perspective, there are simple hacks to give employees the freedom they need to express themselves. ‘Vulnerable Leadership’ needs to be embraced, because people will feel more comfortable to be themselves if they are managed by leaders who are able to share more of themselves in the workplace.

From a management perspective, there are simple hacks to give employees the freedom they need to express themselves.

This means you need to lead with radical honesty – being unafraid to let your employees see some of the strains that naturally come with the responsibility of running an organisation of any size, and being totally open about how well the business is performing.

A recent study revealed that nearly half of CEOs admit that they struggle to demonstrate empathy in their day-to-day working life, and yet empathetic leadership holds the key to building relationships with our employees that are based on trust and understanding. It will inspire your teams to show more of their true selves at work, and this will have a positive impact on their mental health in the workplace.

Ultimately, if business leaders truly want to reduce employees’ stress levels, then they need to focus on introducing preventative measures, not just reactive quick fixes.

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