Reduce the stress of NHS staff

reduce the stress of NHS staff
Stress is part of our everyday lives. We all experience it, but too much stress can cause illness. This blog provides useful guidance and links so your internal communications can help reduce the stress of NHS staff

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Reduce the stress of NHS staff with internal communications

As an internal communicator you have a lot of strings to your bow. One of those includes educating and supporting staff with their mental wellbeing.

Stress is often overlooked and perceived to have less of an impact than other illnesses such as anxiety or depression. But for many, stress is the catalyst that leads to various mental health episodes and conditions.

The damage caused by stress

Stress levels have rocketed in recent years. The chart below from the Health and Safety Executive demonstrates by just how much.

Stress levels in 2020

Unsurprisingly, the NHS has higher-than-average stress levels. A Government report found that NHS staff are 50% more likely to experience higher levels of work-related stress compared with the general working population. This is evidenced by the hard facts: in December 2020 stress, anxiety and other psychiatric illnesses accounted for the loss of 511,000 NHS working days.

While the problem is very apparent, what more can we do about it?

As an organisation the NHS is very aware of the problems caused by stress. During the pandemic when NHS staff were under immense pressure, budgets and resources were expanded in an attempt to reduce the stress of NHS staff. But with excessive workloads and skills shortages there is no getting away from the fact that, for the foreseeable future, many people in the NHS will continue to experience higher than average levels of stress as a result of their job.

As an internal communicator you have the gift of reach. You can communicate with a large proportion of your staff in a way that few others in the NHS can. Below are some useful resources and ideas to help you support staff with stress (and their wider mental health).

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1) Stress management

As a society, we are now much more aware of stress and the negative impact it has. As a result, we have many more resources available to us when we experience mental illnesses. It is always good to remind staff of this help. Below is a list of support groups that could prove useful to your staff:

Stress management

2) Stress education and prevention

Our greatest weapon against stress is awareness. The more aware we are, and the more we talk about it, the more likely we are to instigate methods that reduce stress levels before we are overwhelmed.

By discussing mental health at a corporate level, we will also continue to breakdown the stigma surrounding mental health. As a communicator, there are many avenues you can take to communicate this.

a) Understand what stress is and when it becomes a problem

We all experience stress to a certain degree. Some stress can be helpful, giving us drive and motivation. But too much stress can cause illness. Ensuring staff understand stress and how it specifically impacts them is the first step in them managing their stress levels. Rethink Mental Illness has a useful guide which highlights the signs and causes of stress, together with some guidance on managing stress levels.

Stressed NHS employee

b) Educating line managers

In addition to the awareness mentioned above, NHS managers play a huge part in stress awareness and prevention. For many frontline staff their main source of communication is through their line manager. Here are our suggestions for a campaign that educates and supports managers:

  • Ensure managers are aware of the signs of stress – These go far beyond work performance, so it is important your mangers are aware of them all. This factsheet provides a helpful list.

  • Reiterate the role of managers – It’s important for your line managers to know that they do not need to diagnose stress or come up with a treatment plan. Their role is to recognise the signs, provide a safe environment for discussion and to navigate individuals towards sources of help. This point can often be overlooked and leave line managers overwhelmed, so regular reiteration that there role is to help reduce the stress of NHS staff rather than cure the stress will always beneficial.

  • Equip managers with the tools to have a conversation – Instigating a conversation with someone about stress can be very difficult. This Talking Toolkit will help your line managers do just that.

  • Tuning into their compassion – We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some managers may naturally have compassion while others may need to work harder to develop those skills. The CIPD have some useful quizzes to help managers understand how their managerial style supports the wellbeing of their staff. This one looks specifically at behaviours and this one explores the barriers that may be holding managers back from supporting their team.

c) Promote a safe culture

Feeling comfortable to start a conversation about your struggles with stress or your mental health is not straightforward. There are many factors that could hold someone back such as individual circumstances, cultural beliefs, or relationships with managers. Promoting a safe culture in which staff feel able to have a conversation is vital. Ultimately, they need to know that mental health is taken seriously. Here are three ways you can spread the word:

  • While everyone will know that they can speak to their line manager, do they know what other avenues they have? Highlight the ‘safe spaces’ and resources available to them.

  • If you have volunteers willing to share their story this will be hugely valuable. Knowing there are routes available if you’re struggling with stress is one thing, learning about someone who has already spoken out is a whole new level. It provides reassurance and is far more likely to encourage people to open up.

  • Talk about the initiatives in place. For example, if there is mental health training taking place, let people know. Increasing visibility in this way will evidence the value your Trust or partner organisation places on supporting people with their mental health.

Let’s not forget about you – managing your own stress

Whilst we are busy supporting others with their stress levels and wider mental wellbeing, we can sometimes forget about ourselves. Take a moment to complete this stress test to find out where your stress levels are. At the end you’ll also receive recommendations for things you can do to reduce your own stress.

Getting your messages across

NewZapp Trusted Delivery is an internal communication email tool designed specifically for the NHS. You can create attractive email designs, send to your chosen groups of people, and then use the analytics to understand how well each of your emails has performed. Have a look to see how NewZapp Trusted Delivery could help you get your messages across more effectively.

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Rachel Stidworthy

Marketing Manager

With over 15 years’ experience in communications I have seen first-hand the difference strong internal communications can make. I am passionate about helping organisations reap the rewards of an engaged workforce and feel privileged to work for an organisation that has this same passion. We can achieve more when we work together towards the same goals. 

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