How to Manage Stress at Work
Stress at work continually represents a significant challenge to many employers across the U.S. In 2017, Paychex surveyed more than 2,000 full-time employees about their stress level on a scale of one (not stressed at all) to five (as stressed as possible). Over 42% of respondents rated their stress at work as a three and almost 26% rated their stress as a four. More than 80% of respondents also admitted at least one stressful point in their work life.
As many employees continue to grapple with professional and personal challenges, it's in employers' best interest to find ways to help their staff manage stress at work. Otherwise, they may have to contend with overwhelmed workers or risk losing valuable employees who seek less stressful working conditions elsewhere.
What causes stress at work?
A number of factors can ramp up your team's stress. Some factors may be an unavoidable part of the work environment, while others may be within your control. Stressors can include:
As the saying goes, workers rarely leave companies — they leave bosses. Be aware of how your managers perform, especially in their duties and interactions with their direct reports. Spotting poor management habits and taking steps to correct them as early as possible can reduce stress and the negative aspects from it.
A lack of work/life balance can add to employee stress. For example, do you require your team members to work consistently long schedules or fail to address their flexible schedule requests? Think about how to foster a more equitable work/life balance when creating team schedules, and you could help workers better cope with stress.
Similarly, demanding workloads can add unnecessary stress to workers' lives. In terms of productivity and output, consider what is realistic and sustainable over the long-term. For example, is it viable for your sales team to make 50 new customer contacts per day when the industry standard is 30? Can your administrative team clear 100 cases per day if each case takes up to 15 minutes to resolve? Work with supervisors to balance the need for meeting business demand and accomplishing goals by setting a pace that's challenging yet also attainable.
Compensation and benefits
Stress in the workplace doesn't always relate directly to the office itself. Are your compensation and benefits satisfactory for what your team needs? Employees who are underpaid and struggling to pay their bills or who face health crises without adequate healthcare coverage may be unable to deliver the top results that you need to thrive. Consider the compensation and benefits that you offer, and whether it's fair for the value you're receiving.
Office politics and team dynamics
Office politics and team dynamics can create stress on a day-to-day basis. Gossip, negativity, workplace bullying, and other issues can lower employee morale and make it difficult for workers to be on the top of their game. Invest in your company culture to minimize these issues.
The costs of workplace stress
One costly work-related stressor revolves around workplace performance. Stressed employees may be more frequently absent from work or decide to leave a position when they feel they're not doing well in comparison to their peers. Related factors can include not receiving a raise (when the employee feels it's deserved) or anxiety arising out of natural reflection points such as birthdays or service anniversaries.
Chronic absenteeism due to job stress can add up to hundreds of dollars per employee – and millions of dollars per year. But even if your stressed employees aren't leaving or calling in sick, it can impact their performance. Employees who come to work but don't perform at full capacity can cost companies billions of dollars in lost productivity.
From decreased output and poor performance to spending time fixing errors, a stressed workforce is at a disadvantage in terms of output and/or profits as compared to an organization where the workforce is healthy and engaged.
Fostering a healthy work environment
While stress can't be eliminated from the workplace, there's a lot employers can do in terms of stress management at work. Look for opportunities to implement one or more of the following suggestions:
Regardless of the industry, studies show that getting people out and moving is one way to help relieve stress. Work-sponsored events like "walkathons" are a great way to boost employee morale and get involved in the community. Employees at certain companies, for example, are able to download "stretch break" reminders that encourage people to elevate and exercise based on a timer from their computer. These tiny "daybreaks" stimulated by motivation can help boost workforce productivity.
Much like the ability to handle several tasks at a time, reducing a worker's stress includes an activity called mono-tasking. While "multitasking" can increase the amount of time it takes to complete a task, mono-tasking incorporates clear, "one-at-a-time" deliverables. This means milestones don't overlap and workers can establish a hyper-focus — one task at a time.
"Always-on" mentalities in business can often hinder staff productivity and stifle creativity. Allowing people the time to recoup and do their jobs effectively is important to overall stress management in the workplace. Employers need to allow workers time to disconnect, and there may even be situations where breaks are mandated by law.
In most companies, an open-door policy indicates to employees that a supervisor or manager is open to an employee's questions, complaints, suggestions, etc. The objective is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any concerns employees may have (such as stress).
Such a policy can prove extremely valuable in your efforts to maintain employee morale and reduce employee turnover. In turn, employees can feel that they can communicate with the owner or other senior managers, and understand how these strategies can affect their individual work. Employers can also benefit from learning first-hand what's important to their team, or what's causing stress or tension within the workforce.
Due to technological advances — including the widespread use of mobile devices, cloud computing, and other digital advances — many employers no longer require an employee's physical presence in the workplace for some positions. Flex schedules can come in different forms, including:
- Compressed workweek (e.g., four longer days for full-time compensation)
- Flexibility in terms of start and end work times
- Some hours worked onsite with others worked from a different location such as the employee's home
- Job-sharing, where two employees share responsibility for one position (e.g., one employee works in the morning, and the other works later in the day)
In addition to serving as one of many strategies to help manage stress in the workplace, establishing a flexible work policy may contribute to reduced rates of absenteeism, higher levels of employee engagement, and an enhanced work/life balance for your workforce.
Employee time and attendance solutions are useful for monitoring patterns of employee attendance and scheduling. Companies can help lower absenteeism by exploring options such as paid time-off policies, schedules that align with employees' personal obligations, and flexible solutions such as telecommuting and remote work arrangements.
Another way to help employees cope with stress is to make sure your hard-working team gets the recognition and appreciation it deserves. Formal employee recognition programs can help businesses reduce attrition and provide leadership teams with an ongoing means of identifying and recognizing top contributors.
Keep your workforce motivated by developing an employee rewards and recognition program that highlights the value of employee contributions. High-performing employees can have a direct impact on company productivity, so it's important to acknowledge these contributions and reinforce the positive behaviors that help improve business results.
In general, if you sense that morale or engagement is dropping unexpectedly, take time to conduct due diligence to assess the causes. Invest in improving employee morale by focusing on employee recognition, team-building, and fostering a more inclusive culture. Over the long-term, focusing on employee engagement may mitigate some of the negative effects of workplace stress.
Ways to manage stress
Hoping to completely eliminate stress is unrealistic. For many of us, finding a quick distraction to take our mind out of work mode can nevertheless make a big difference. Here are some stress-reducing activities that employees can do during a break or lunch hour for a little welcome distraction from work:
Drink a cup of your favorite beverage
Take a moment to enjoy your favorite cup of coffee or tea in a nice, quiet place. Focusing on the flavors and blocking out the noise of the outside world can go a long way toward reducing stress.
Learn a language
Exercising our mind on something different can be a very welcomed distraction. For example, Duolingo offers a language platform that is free, self-paced, and offers a variety of languages. It's available for Windows, iOS, and Android devices.
Listen to music or a podcast
You can combine this with drinking your favorite beverage or taking a short walk. Put together a "destressing activities" playlist of your favorite tunes. Find a podcast that inspires and motivates — a quick Google search for "inspirational podcast" gives you plenty to choose from.
Play a game
If you subscribe to the newspaper, take the daily crossword puzzle with you during lunch. Pick up a Sudoku book. Download an app on your phone or start playing chess with co-workers. It's fun and can create camaraderie.
Mindfulness in the workplace is a growing trend among businesses as a way to help counter employee stress. Even if you don't decide to go "all-in" with mindfulness, there's an increasing number of deep-breathing apps that can be helpful.
Read a book
Whether it's physical paper or an e-book, reading can be relaxing. The genre doesn't matter. It could be a non-fiction book to learn something new or a science fiction thriller. Find a topic that interests you.
Whether it's alone or with a group, taking a short walk can be energizing and relaxing. Some organizations actually conduct walking meetings. In her TED Talk, Nilofer Merchant explains how walking can help your life and health.
Any one of these activities can guide employees in how to reduce stress from work. A combination of activities might be even more beneficial, since they focus on how to deal with work stress in a small, but significant manner.
Reduce stress, minimize burnout
Employees often find themselves having an exceptionally difficult time disconnecting from work. For people to operate at peak efficiency, however, it's essential they have time to recharge and reassess their working conditions. Stress management at work starts with recognizing the common factors that lead to anxiety and stress, and from there establishing the most effective methods to reduce stress and minimize employee burnout.
By identifying causes of stress at work and striving to foster a more healthy working environment, employers can demonstrate that the health and well-being of their employees (both physical and mental) is very important. This approach has the added benefit of letting workers know they are a top priority within the organization — a factor that can also lead to stronger retention rates and greater long-term loyalty.
Want to prevent employee burnout in your company? Learn more about how stress can lead to burnout, and steps you can take to help mitigate this in your workplace.