nikkiMood and mindset are critical “tools” HR can leverage in the workplace to ensure that even in tough times, teams are motivated to achieve great things, according to a corporate wellness expert.

Vitality coach Nikki Fogden-Moore says one of HR’s main responsibilities is to bring energy, purpose and passion to employees, regardless of what an organisation is going through, and to manage stress and burnout.

A key to stress prevention, Fogden-Moore says, is understanding employees as individuals and knowing what they value.

“Is it more time with their kids? Is it bonuses? Is it nice cars? Is it flexible working hours? How do we structure things to make people healthy, wealthy and wise, and happy to come to work every day?”

It is also vital for managers to ask questions such as “what’s going on for you? How can we help? Do you want to do something else?”, and to listen to and genuinely care about the answers, Fogden-Moore says.

“It’s really about being agile, and the bottom line is communication,” she says.

A lot of hard-working HR professionals and managers are themselves “deflated” about their work, and underestimate the extent of their impact, but “every moment you have with someone, or every connection you make with someone, can make the world of difference”, she says.

“Don’t underestimate the value you have inside an organisation to bring people back, [and] don’t be afraid to bring your personality into the role and show that you care.

“When we leave things they fester, they become deeper, they cost money – they can cost lives in organisations where a flip of the finger can actually ruin a whole factory line, or actually cause someone a grievous bodily harm… doing nothing is probably the worst thing we can do.”

Know the causes, know the signs

Common causes of workplace stress include unnecessary meetings and emails, job insecurity, financial insecurity, feeling overworked and pushed for time, and feeling “pulled in all directions” due to the competing demands of work and home life, Fogden-Moore says.

She notes that stress and burnout can manifest differently in different people, with warning signs including withdrawn behaviour, failing to meet deadlines, a lack of attention to detail, and absenteeism.

“Also, you can physically tell when people are burnt out – you can see it in their eyes, you can see it in their posture,” she says, adding that it’s important to be aware of these signs because “when people are feeling vulnerable and burnt out, they’re not always going to tell you”.

Rather than trying to keep an eye on every employee, HR professionals must cultivate an environment where employees will feel comfortable giving an honest response when asked if they’re okay, and ensure both they and managers understand what to do if the answer is ‘no’.

“A lot of HR directors ask those questions, but there’s nothing in the handbook for the follow-up if someone comes back to you and says, ‘I’m not okay. I’m stressed out about my family, I can’t concentrate on my work, every time I drive in the car I feel nauseous and anxious…’,” says Fogden-Moore.

The key is to know where to refer them for help.

The company is not responsible if an employee is gambling their money away and making bad financial decisions, for example, but it should provide support for these employees as financial issues are one of the biggest causes of stress in Australia.

“Educate people more – pop information in newsletters, make it transparent… knowing the information and what stresses people out creates relevance and [the opportunity] to say, ‘it’s your personal accountability… but if you’re in over your head, here’s a helpline’.”

Share the load

Working to achieve the best outcome for employees and the organisation’s bottom line can be a balancing act, but the former will aid the latter, says Fogden-Moore.

“You really have to bridge that gap as a communicator to management and the employees,” she says. Topical discussions and case studies, and promoting hotlines and helplines, are all simple ways to build awareness and support.

“Exposing common issues and common dialogue and making it part of communication training [helps] people feel that it’s acceptable to start talking about concerns ahead of time,” she adds.

A buddy system is also worth considering. This can be “a really, really powerful tool to support you as an HR manager, because you can’t be everywhere and all things to all people”.

“It’s a great way to reach out and connect, and it’s a really good way to share knowledge. It’s different to a mentoring program as well, because it’s much more personal,” Fogden-Moore says.

“[Create] an environment where, on Monday morning, at the start of a work shift, people check in and find out how someone is going outside of the work environment.”