Being stress-free and happy in the workplace is a challenge. Yet, it’s one that could be overcome with the right strategy in place. To understand how to create a stress-free environment in the workplace, it may be useful to define stress and scrutinise its triggers.

If organisations can tap into the characteristics of contentment, joy and satisfaction, they may find solutions that help to alleviate workplace stress and anxiety. Let’s dive into what those solutions might look like, so business leaders can form action plans.

The primary causes of workplace stress

According to Statista, the most common type in the UK is work stress, experienced by 79% of survey respondents. Add to this the fact that one in 14 UK adults (7%) feel stressed every single day, it's no wonder we turn to meditation apps in great numbers.

In April 2020, Sensor Tower analysis found that ‘the top 10 mental wellness apps accumulated close to 10 million downloads’.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the most significant cause of stress among employees was poor communication with colleagues. Since then, research from the University of Birmingham reveals that the pandemic itself became the main contributor to job-related stress in the workplace. The study surveyed 700 UK workers and identified three Covid-19-induced enhancers of job stress:

  • concern about income
  • fear of virus exposure when returning to work
  • concern about potential job loss.

Let’s look closer at the pre-pandemic stressor, which was poor communication. 

Tackle communication issues to smooth the journey

One major step any organisation could take is to improve communication internally and externally. Communication between management and their teams should always be transparent and honest. Transparency, as Achievers points out in its excellent guide, ‘is the foundation on which successful cultures are built’.

With this strategy, problems would be addressed in open and respectful conversations that provide clarity for employees. This may help to foster a strong sense of autonomy and trust among employees (one of our 6 empathy-inspired change management tips for business leaders), and better team morale.

Another key element in how to create a stress-free work environment is supporting a workforce with the right resources. These might include anything from upscaling IT systems to providing employees with greater access to training opportunities. (65% of UK professionals believe they will need to acquire a new skillset in the next two to five years to do their job, says London School of Business & Finance research). As well as ensuring that employees are confident their skillsets are up to date, it demonstrates a commitment to their professional growth.

Finally, organisations could try to create an environment that encourages creativity and innovation. By allowing employees to express their ideas and take ownership of their work, it may help to form an engaged workforce that’s motivated and inspired.

To make this a reality, organisations could engage a dedicated team that takes on a holistic approach to creating a stress-free working environment. This team could focus on implementing strategies that promote accessibility, transparency and collaboration.

When one considers Champion Health’s Workplace Health Report 2022 – where 28% of employees report that high levels of stress impact productivity – organisations may benefit from increased productivity, job satisfaction and employee well-being.

Are the benefits of a stress-free work environment always good?

Stress is everywhere and it can be dreadful. Yet, it turns out that stress can also be good for us. It can help us become stronger, more skilful and even smarter. It's like medicine – if we take the right amount, it may help us, but if we take the wrong amount it can be bad for us.

It's important to learn how to handle stress and to use it in our lives to become better and stronger. A Psychology Today UK article says, ‘even if the cause of the stress is bad, a positive evaluation of stress itself can impact how people adapt their responses to stress to achieve their goals’.

With this in mind, business leaders might adapt their approach to recognising signs of stress and anxiety, and not be too quick to judge or categorise it.

The knock-on effect for company culture

Organisations that know how to create a stress-free work environment (at least the bad stress), may find our solutions useful.

Stress within a company can have an incredibly damaging effect on culture. The solutions above focus on communication and transparency, but also how one can empower employees, which may alleviate anxiety and stress. As we’ve discussed before, employee empowerment is key to your work culture.

Stress may lead to a decrease in productivity and motivation, and an overall decrease in morale within the company. (Workers in cubicles (37%) and open-plan offices (32%) are more regularly affected by workplace stress than those who work from home (17%), says a Canada Life survey.) Employees may become more hostile towards colleagues and management, and there may be a greater atmosphere of fear and mistrust within the organisation.

Stress can also lead to an increase in absenteeism, negative or unproductive team dynamics, and a decrease in creativity and innovation. The overall effect of stress in a company culture is that it becomes a hostile and unproductive environment.

Taking steps to recognise and address stress in the workplace could have a lasting impact on company culture and business success.