Santa gnome in a yellow jacket. Anger at rising costs, longer working hours, delayed commutes home, poor mental health, dwindling pensions and everything in between have all taken their toll.

mellow yellow:
Managing stress in the workplace

10th December 2018

There’s much to be angry about as the year draws to a close, but managers can do more to help boost healthy working habits and build resilience amongst their employees.


Paris was a strange place to be on Saturday. Late Friday evening, I witnessed a number of shop workers, taking down seasonal displays, emptying stores and boarding up windows, in preparation for the anticipated “Gillet Jaunes” protests. The calm before the storm, the French capital felt like a ghost town by Saturday morning.

Under normal circumstances, the grand boulevards of Paris - like all major high streets - would have been luring people in - not shut them out - in the lead up to the Christmas festivities. But over the last four weekends, shoppers have been forced to make way for a different kind of stampede. Ringing tills have been drowned out by ringing police sirens. Christmas crackers have been replaced with fire crackers and Santa’s familiar red jacket has suddenly turned an unseasonal shade of bright yellow.

A rolling stone gathers no moss

The political rioting going on in France represents a broader, global malaise about how we are living (or not living). Anger at rising costs, longer working hours, delayed commutes home, poor mental health, dwindling pensions and everything in between have all - it seems - taken their toll on communities across Europe and the Western world.

The Darwinian School of Thought proffers that the fittest will survive. The key to survival in modern-day terms is resilience - both personal and professional.

Growing up, my Mother’s most loved phrase was “A rolling stone gathers no moss”. This line was rolled out at every possible opportunity, where I had demonstrated a lack of ability to stay and fight. This advice was most commonly doled out when I’d chosen to quit a job or change career path. I have always resented this phrase since in my view moss grows in dark, dank places and there aren’t many people out there that go “ooh… moss!” when they see it. But I get the sentiment.

And in present times, having the grit to stick things out and the resolve to keep on trucking (even if you can’t afford the petrol), seems like a really useful skill to master - particularly when it comes to the workplace.

Anger at rising costs, longer working hours, delayed commutes home, poor mental health, dwindling pensions and everything in between have all taken their toll.

Workplace stress is on the rise

Earlier this year, the leader of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, said that workplace stress was a “growing epidemic”. According to a report published by the TUC, stress was one the key issues at work, with over 15 million working days lost to work-related mental health issues in the last year alone. In 2018, 239,000 new cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety were reported in the UK alone.

Back in May, a survey by the CIPD found that 55% of employers said they had witnessed an increase in common mental health issues at work, compared to 41% of respondents in 2016. This was associated with a significant upsurge in workplace presenteeism.

Psychological wellbeing at work has become a critical issue for businesses today. So how do you build a mentally resilient team?

Take a look in the mirror

For a manager, the key is to first start by looking at your own levels of resilience. If leaders lack the strength to keep going, then it’s unlikely they’ll be able to help others to do the same. Managers need to look inwards before they can begin to tackle what’s going on around them.

Developing good working habits is essential. A manager must ensure they respect their own boundaries when it comes to work-life balance. Whether this is disconnecting and unplugging from work emails after hours or taking lunch away from your desk each day, managers need to create their own useable frameworks, within which they operate, to assist them in improving their own levels of resilience. More importantly, they must demonstrate their resilience by adhering to these new habits.

For middle managers, this may mean communicating their own work practices with those above them. Not an easy task informing your superiors that you have boundaries, but imperative if you are to maintain them and be a role model to those you manage. Indeed, this may require managers to really stick their necks out and push for better working practices from senior leaders too. This requires a heavy dose of conviction.

Do as I do

Once managers have begun to establish their own healthy working habits, then they need to show their team these practices in action. This will then act as a major motivator for others to adopt similar approaches, without feeling the potentially negative consequences.

I once worked with a client who ran a start-up because he wanted to stop his London commute and create better balance for him and his family. On paper, the company claimed to offer a flexible and progressive culture. Yet at a workshop I held, the founder said he thought the younger team members weren’t putting in the long hours he’d had to endure in big corporations, during his mid-twenties. This seemed a somewhat contradictory statement and a little hypocritical. Do as I say, not as I do. But the ideals and the practices have to be aligned if they’re to work.

And of course, communication and trust must act as the building blocks, if managers are going to lead the change and create healthier workplaces.

Without doubt it takes strength of character to instill better working practices in a team. A manager must wholly buy into the principles of wellbeing if new practices are to succeed. But by sowing the seeds now, it is likely that both individual, team and business will eventually reap the rewards. Over time, a resilient employee will stay. They will demonstrate commitment and loyalty far beyond an individual whose only method of staying sane is to call in sick - again.

Because when the going gets tough, the resilient worker who is encouraged to develop healthy working habits will not get their jacket - yellow or otherwise.

Santa gnome in a yellow jacket. Anger at rising costs, longer working hours, delayed commutes home, poor mental health, dwindling pensions and everything in between have all taken their toll.
Anger at rising costs, longer working hours, delayed commutes home, poor mental health, dwindling pensions and everything in between have all taken their toll.