Nick Gold: Stress Awareness Month

Nick Gold, MD of Speakers Corner, considers how employers can harness stress awareness month to connect with and engage employees

As society starts to open up and the vaccine programme continues on at pace, we look forward to brighter times and, with a degree of newfound optimism, a pathway that steers away from the lockdown cycle we have been on over the last year.

April brings the change of seasons, longer days and brighter skies but also the chance to reflect and take stock with April being Stress Awareness Month.  Since 1992, this annual event has been driving public awareness towards the causes and cures for stress.  During the last year, as individuals and as a society we have experienced situations, circumstances and environments which have heightened our stress levels and bought to the forefront our mental health and resilience.

From a business perspective, with employees working remotely and the business landscape shifting constantly, the pandemic has challenged traditional leadership traits and pushed companies to re-evaluate how they operate in order to ensure their employees have the best possibility of delivering success and exceeding their potential.  A results driven business needs to be able to demonstrate, both to its employees as well as its clients that results are more than just the numbers on the financial reports.  All individuals associated with the business, in whatever capacity, need to feel valued and that these values are aligned with the business.

This has created an opportunity for companies to demonstrate their relationship with their employees.  A chance to forge bonds and demonstrate shared values both to the employees but also as a company to the wider community.  The impact of the pandemic on individuals is varied and has no set pattern, different people have experienced different situations and reacted in different ways.  Individuals are managing their stress levels and striving to maintain a good state of mental health with both differing degrees of success and through the use of methodologies suited to their personalities.

As such, the nature of this individualism with regards to a shared issued means that business can’t prescribe a ‘best practice’ document or layout the process as they might have traditionally done when dealing with a new situation.  A company needs to provide a platform for open conversation by employees, a culture where it is understood that individual issues are a shared responsibility, and it is in everyone’s interest for a successful resolution to be found for each individual.

The truth is that companies are not equipped to deliver this to their employees without a degree of cynicism and suspicion dragging the process down, especially for those companies that have historically taken pride in their strictly adherence to historical culture and order within their company.  An employee will look on a voice from the internal machinations of the company with thoughts around demonstrating vulnerability to the company and possible ulterior agendas from the company perspective.

However, this can be overcome through the use of external voice, an external speaker who can bring fresh thought, ideas and perspective both from a position of gravitas through their knowledge and expertise but also independence.  The external voice, especially when it is clear they are attending a one-off session to instigate thought and encourage conversation, has no agenda above and beyond the message and content they are trying to deliver.  They provide an environment, both during the session and beyond, where their ideas can be utilised as a basis for an open dialogue, where they discuss stress, the impact of the pandemic and trigger signs or potential refinements of working practices are seen as positive discussions for the individuals.  The company is one step removed and solely there to support their staff as they navigate through these times which should ensure the business is seen by its employees in a positive frame – supporting them in the best possible way.

The impact of that single session by an external speaker is that it gives the framework for the business to demonstrate an open conversation culture.  The restricted time of the session means that the key objective of the speaker is to provoke thought, to challenge, to inspire, they do not have the space or time in one session to resolve as this should be seen as the start of journey for every individual on the session.  It creates a shared bond between the individual and the business that stress is not a tightly managed problem which can be resolved, boxed up and put away but something that needs to be managed through open conversation, through the appreciation that each individual needs the support in the best way.

The business can kick start this by laying a platform of external voices providing guidance, framing the nature of stress and opening up the culture of the company. This open dialogue and understanding will be critical to the health of every individual within the business and their impact on the success of the business over time.