Employee Stress Is an Epidemic. Take These 4 Steps to Minimize It

Employee Stress Is an Epidemic. Take These 4 Steps to Minimize It

Did you know that Americans are significantly more likely to feel stress on the job (80% do) than they are to accurately name the governor of their state (only 2 of 3 can)?

Stress is an incredibly common workplace problem, and terribly costly. Workers suffering stress are more likely to:

  • Miss work
  • Get burned out
  • Be disengaged
  • Look for a new job
  • Have arguments with co-workers 
  • Have family/relationship problems
  • Suffer from illnesses
  • Be hospitalized
  • Die

The World Health Organization has declared stress a worldwide health epidemic; Americans’ stress levels are even higher than the world average (according to a Gallup study).  Making matters worse, two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels are higher now than they were five years ago, according to a 2018 Korn Ferry survey.

The business costs are also extreme. The negative impacts of stress are estimated to cost U.S. employers more than $300 billion annually, with 1 million workers absent per day due to stress, according to an American Institute of Stress article.

Relieving Stress in the Workplace

Increased awareness of the dangers and costs of job-related stress has resulted in more and more employers taking steps to help employees get relief from stress. This is important, as nearly half of workers say they need help in learning how to manage stress, according to the American Institute of Stress article.

Examples of employer efforts to help employees relieve stress include:

  • Offering wellness programs, yoga and meditation classes
  • Providing flexible work arrangements
  • Encouraging regular breaks
  • Promoting exercise
  • Urging or requiring taking time off

Getting all employees to take steps to relieve stress is almost impossible, however. Some employees may feel like they don’t have the time to engage in stress-relieving activities, especially when under the stress of deadline pressure. Many employees might also feel like they’re showing their worth by working long hours and on weekends, and checking their email 24-7, perhaps even on vacation—even if their employer discourages such practices.

"We live in a culture that values business and stress," Heather Kelly, CEO of the public relations agency SSPR LLC, told SHRM. "Stress is a powerful currency. The busier and more stressed you are, the more important and valuable you seem. Is the stress level of today's worker really higher than that of a worker … [employed] when there were no labor laws or weekends? It doesn't matter. Culturally, we perceive ourselves as the most-stressed worker-era in history, and our perception is our reality."

Go a Needed Step Further: Help Reduce Stress

Employers need to prioritize reducing stress in addition to offering stress-relieving benefits. While it’s impossible to prevent all stress, there are effective stress-reducing steps you can take if you recognize what—and who—creates stress for employees.

One of those “whos” creating stress is managers. Thirty-five percent of respondents to the Korn Ferry survey cited their boss as their single biggest stressor, and employees noted unrealistic manager expectations as a top stressor in a survey by staffing provider Accountemps. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, reports that workplace stress is particularly common in situations when employees are asked to do things that exceed their knowledge and capabilities, and when they do not have enough support from peers and supervisors to close that gap. 

Co-workers also cause aggravation and stress. A 2018 Ladders article proclaimed that the “majority of work stress is coming from your terrible coworkers.” The article, citing findings from the American Institute of Stress, noted that “our team dynamics directly affect more than 90% of what is stressing us out at work.”

What can employers do to help reduce stress? Work on improving the problematic team dynamics that are leading to employee stress. Key components include:

  • Help managers be better managers. Provide managers with coaching and resources to help them more effectively lead and support their teams and set appropriate and realistic expectations of success. One vital piece is helping them understand how to define individual team members’ responsibilities to give everyone needed clarity about their roles. Properly defined roles and responsibilities encourage reasonable workloads and team efficiency, and role clarity reduces stress resulting from uncertainty.
  • Improve team collaboration. Provide collaboration training to help teams work better together, be more focused, and experience less frustration. Include a 360-degree review process in which individual employees learn about how team members experience them, how they can be better team members, and then work on their areas of improvement. As the team works better together and individual employees make improvements, everyone involved has a better, less stressful work experience.
  • Reward and recognize behavior that is consistent with your desired culture. Focus not just on what needs to be done, but also on how work gets done.  Employees will always shift their behaviors based on what they believe they are being evaluated on.
  • Prioritize senior leadership modeling the desired expectations for work pace, results and time off.  Employees keep a close eye on what the company’s leaders do and emulate their behaviors.

To learn how Connect the Dots can help your teams lift their performance with improved collaboration, visit this link.