Stress at work is a key issue of 2020 in the UK. While many of us are living under difficult circumstances, work should be the least of our worries. And yet, according to research by PerkBox, a shocking 79% of British adults in employment in 2020 experience workplace stress regularly. This winds up costing businesses money too, as 43% of sick days in the UK are due to employee burnout. Stress is a significant factor in the population’s mental health crisis and should be addressed directly. Luckily, many companies are making an effort to find strategies to lower levels of stress among their workforce.
There are a thousand articles listing ways to reduce stress as an individual. In this article, we discuss the role of software in mental health support and list those apps with which workplaces can remove stressors. Some are NHS approved apps, dedicated to helping users create healthy habits and manage their stress levels. Others are software developed for the workplace which can help reduce stress triggers at work by managing workload and scheduling.
While primarily experienced as emotional, stress is a serious health issue with physical consequences. Taking steps to reduce work-related stress is key for business leaders to look after their colleagues.
We know that not all stress is bad stress. A small amount of stress can be a positive influence, improving our motivation and performance at work. This is short-term stress that we perceive as within our coping abilities and feels exciting.
However, when we have too much stress for a long time and for negative reasons, we begin to struggle. This is because any kind of stress prompts our brain to release more of the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is present in our blood at varying levels throughout the day, generally highest in the morning and lessening as the day goes on. When we face stress triggers, our bodies respond with an extra shot to help us cope.
The effects of cortisol produce a natural alarm system, sharpening the brain’s use of glucose, increasing the concentration of sugars and tissue-repairing substances in the blood. Cortisol also suppresses the processes that are not needed in a fight-or-flight scenario, altering the immune system and slowing or even stopping digestive, reproductive and growth processes. When we experience prolonged stress, the excess cortisol can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, muscle weakness and mood swings, which show as anxiety, depression or irritability.
Positive stress, called ‘Eustress’, is caused by triggers which we perceive as positive, such as learning something new, starting a new job or receiving a promotion. These are positive because they make our lives easier in the long term. Negative stressors at work make it more difficult to achieve our goals, which means they often compound each other and become difficult cycles to break. In their report, PerkBox found that while long hours were a key cause of stress in 2018, a change in workplace cultures means that these are less of a concern. Instead, they found that the key causes of stress at work include:
It can sometimes take time before we notice we are stressed, and often only just in time before we hit a wall. Knowing and making your colleagues aware of the warning signs of stress can help everyone manage their stress more easily.
To stop stress, look out for:
Common advice for coping with stress at work includes:
As software specialists, when we look at the most common causes of work-related stress we immediately see digital solutions. We also know there are apps to encourage and assist with developing the behaviours that help us cope when stress is unavoidable. From time management to mindfulness, it’s no secret that the right app or software can make a huge difference to the working experience. Because apps and software can produce automated prompts, helping your team stay on top of things is depersonalised and removed from office politics, and keeping on top of your mental health is more accessible.
There is now also a whole host of mental health apps, many of which are listed on the NHS Apps Library as approved by medical professionals. One developer, Andres Fonseca, described the process for designing his app, Thrive, saying:
“Most mental health apps work on the 70:30 principle. For 70% of employees, apps can identify potential issues before they become severe enough to affect performance or wellbeing. For the other 30%, whose symptoms are more severe, more personal interventions will be more appropriate, such as counselling provided by employee assistance programmes (EAPs)” – Andres Fonseca, Co-founder and CEO of Thrive.
Helping 70% of your workforce manage their stress and mental health at work supports them to continue achieving each milestone. For the other 30%, the open discussion about mental health precipitated by recommending apps can show that you are supportive, and create space for any problems to surface safely and positively.
You can easily tackle time pressures at work by reducing the amount of time individual tasks take. While they are necessary to employment, timesheets are removed from the true goals of the company, the product or service you provide. As such, this peripheral task is perceived as a stressful distraction from the real work, important though it is. When completing timesheets is too complicated, changing your process is an easy win to reduce pressure on an already high workload.
Crono is a free timesheets app which streamlines timesheet reporting into your project management processes. Project managers simply set tasks for the week via the app’s interface. The team member marks them done by the end of the week and reports the time they spent. Because the app is available on mobile, colleagues can complete timesheets from wherever they are, making this app perfect for any industry.
Crono also offers smart filtering and quality data analysis, giving managers many ways to view how well their teams are working. The data can help allocate tasks based on individual working speed and even create invoices simply using the hours a project has logged. By handling the boring stuff for you, Crono gives you and your team time back to focus on what is really important.
As workloads mount up and stress sets in, we find it hard to focus. Managing time and achieving goals is more difficult, creating a cycle of stress. The Pomodoro technique helps avoid overwhelm and procrastination when faced with large tasks. It is popular among academics, creatives and business leaders alike.
Engross incorporates this technique, but adds a number of features to help users understand how well they are working on each task. If something distracts you during a session, simply tap the screen and make a note, then get back to work. Engross records your distractions, helping you to see which tasks fail to hold your attention and how you are improving your ability to focus over time.
Engross also includes a calendar view for your to-do list, helping you to keep things in perspective. You can set tasks to repeat so you don’t have to enter the same ones every day. By using a timer to break your large tasks into smaller sessions, you avoid watching the clock and longing for a rest.
Communication breakdown is a huge source of stress in many workplaces. If a project loses momentum or you can’t easily distribute the workload, it can be hard to talk to colleagues to find out what is happening. However, these are the times when communication is needed most.
Using Slack saves email inboxes from getting clogged, gets quick answers to the little questions and encourages a more collective and friendly culture. Taking its interface from the classic instant messaging programmes of the early 2000s, Slack removes barriers to communication such as finding phone numbers or typing lengthy emails. All of your contacts are listed in the app, with icons displaying their status as online or away, concentrating or on the phone, so you never have to feel rude about not responding straight away. It’s friendly too, allowing emojis and reactions to demonstrate tone in a lighthearted way. You can even set up voice or video calls within the app, for those topics that need a little more discussion. Finally, for collaborative topics and group discussions, everyone can be looped in with a group chat tagged for each project.
On top of this, add Spill to your workplace Slack account and give every employee an emotional wellbeing hotline. Starting with four questions, Spill assesses which employees may need extra emotional support and offers video call sessions with qualified therapists. Every employee can ‘Ask a Therapist’ a question, and access Spill’s tools and exercises from their device, whether at work or home. These might help individuals label and understand emotions, or learn to develop self-support skills.
Workplace stress can sometimes be triggered by a lack of fulfilment or challenge at work. Whether our responsibilities are not high enough, or menial administrative tasks are overshadowing our work, we can often benefit from some intellectual stimulation to reduce our stress levels.
We like to spend a little time each day broadening our minds with the incredible videos available on TEDx. Stream expert lectures on every subject imaginable on your device, for free. Whether you’re interested in the latest medical research developments, social justice campaigns or architectural advances, TEDx is a great app to help kickstart your creativity to help you better solve problems at work.
The following apps have been developed specifically with the intention of preventing daily stresses becoming long term mental health issues. These apps are recommended by the NHS and are available on Apple and Android.
Available for businesses to use supporting all of their colleagues, Thrive is an app which helps you track your mood and learn methods for stress and anxiety relief. Mimicking mobile gaming apps, Thrive gives users Zen points as they progress through levels to learn meditation and deep breathing techniques. Record your daily mood, the emotions you feel and the situation that triggered them in the journal. The app can remind you of how you reacted previously to similar situations to show the progress you have made.
TogetherAll is a forum app for mental health discussion. You can find a community of people experiencing the same emotional and cognitive stresses and share thoughts and coping techniques. At all times, mental health professionals are on hand to help unpack the complexities of mental health and assist in difficult situations.
The Fabulous is developed by psychologists to help users develop healthy daily habits to look after yourself. These include exercising, meditating, and prioritising tasks. With reminders throughout the day, The Fabulous keeps track of your progress, encouraging you to reward yourself when you hit a new milestone. You can tailor your experience by choosing a course for the particular challenges you’re facing at that time, including problems staying motivated, negative self-talk and even complex emotional issues such as addiction and depression.
Supporting positive mental health in the workplace and reducing work-related stress is a process, but one worth investing in. Take time to identify areas which are contributing to unmanageable workloads, such as administrative tasks and timesheets. Crono’s free timesheet software can cut hours off your team’s working week. Encourage an open conversation about mental health and workplace stress to give your colleagues a chance to vent.