Pressure is a factor of modern life, but it need not affect people who work for a Church or Place of Worship if work-related stress factors are properly thought about.
Stress can affect many people in many ways and can be caused different sources including at home, at work and in volunteer work - one or all of these could combine to cause ill-health. Stress also affects people in many different ways and has many different symptoms but they all affect the person's health and well-being and are therefore important to consider.
What is stress?
Stress is an adverse reaction to excessive pressure and demands. These can come from all aspects of life and it is common for there to be a mixture of sources of pressure at home, work and in their voluntary work.
In Churches and Places of Worship, pressures might be a result of long working hours, work with certain groups of people who are demanding, financial problems, falling congregation numbers, a split in the congregation or lack of support from others, to mention but a few. Of course, clergy are not the only ones who could be at risk from stress; employees and volunteers could be at risk too.
There are some common symptoms of stress, but sometimes the symptoms might not be immediately obvious or could even be hidden. These symptoms range from loss of work performance, reduced motivation, lapses in concentration and indecision. A person can become very emotional and sensitive when they are stressed and they can be argumentative and personality clashes become inflated.
Some people can become aggressive when stressed, and can criticise others and create malicious gossip. This can sometimes turn violent to other people and vandalism and other outbursts could also be a result. As a total contrast to this, others might become withdrawn and introvert and could stop attending on a regular basis to avoid the source of the stress altogether.
While some people feel that they need to spend more time at work when stressed, some people arrive late and leave early, possibly taking longer than normal breaks. Absenteeism is also a sign of stress along with a lack of personal hygiene, an upset stomach, headaches and rapid weight loss or gain.
The above symptoms are not a complete list. This is because everyone would react in a different way. In fact, some of the stress symptoms might even lead to people thinking that a person needs more to do to keep them motivated!
It is important at this point to note that Stress is different to Pressure. The pressure of workload can be useful to keep a person motivated and feel valued. However, excessive workload leads to stress. There is clearly a balance to be had between having the right amount of work and having too much.
Steps to reduce the risk of ill-health
As with most areas of Health and Safety, Risk Assessment is the best place to start. Risk Assessment is about becoming aware of stress-factors and how the affect employees and volunteers. Look for work-relates pressures - some have already been mentioned earlier in this page. As with all Risk Assessment, a decision is to be taken about what can be done to manage stress to ensure that the risk of ill-health is minimised.
Listen to staff and volunteers. A sign that things are not right would be a general disillusionment and low morale. Ask people to list the best and worst things of the job – tackle the worst things and build on the best.
When there are small numbers of people involved, a simple one-to-one chat periodically should be enough to allow employees and volunteers to speak about their concerns and problems, so long as the discussion is open and honest. This could be part of an employee appraisal or part of the normal pastoral care of the Church.
Skills and training can go a long way as people feel as if they are better equipped to do a specific task. Ensure that people have the right training and knowledge to carry out their task, and support them when needed. Supervise employees and volunteers, but avoid micromanaging them (telling them exactly what they should do minute-by-minute, as if you need to control every part of their job).
Reward someone if they have done a good job – even a simple 'thank you' – goes a long way. An example of this is to take charity shop workers out for a celebratory meal every year or thanking someone at the pulpit for their extraordinary efforts or support.
Ensure that there is good communications, especially during periods of change, and let people feel that their voice is being listened to. Employees and volunteers should feel that they have some control over the tasks that they do and that they have the support of the person they are responsible to.
Stress affects people in so many ways, and can often be hard to detect. The hardest thing sometimes is to get the person to accept that they are stressed. Once stress has been identified (and the things causing the stress known and understood), then action can be taken to reduce or remove the stressors, provide support (physical, mentally and spiritually to meet the needs of the individual).
Stress is a complex problem and there can be many sources of pressure inside and outside their work, paid or otherwise, in their Church or Place of Worship. It is important to consider stress when thinking of people's health and welfare, and to reduce the pressures of work. It is also wise to consider influences outside of work, because many volunteers have a full-time occupation, and might even volunteer with a number of organisations.