The main area in which Americans feel growing stress in their lives is at the workplace. In fact, chronic employee stress has been considered by some researchers to be reaching epidemic levels. And while not every employee feels the same type or degree of stress, it is easy to see how a stressful environment can affect not only the workers but the workplace and company as a whole.
So what can be done to fight this?
First, it’s important to understand the causes of workplace stress. According to a recent study on stress in American households by the American Psychological Association, parents, women, younger generations such as Millennials, and those making less than $50,000 a year report the highest levels of stress in general, mostly because they are worried about having enough money.
On top of this, the APA study shows that struggling financially can strain people’s cognitive abilities, which often leads to poor decision-making, which in turn affects or perpetuates ongoing financial and health issues.
All this leads back to the workplace.
The five greatest workplace-related stressors start with the amount of compensation and a heavy workload. Next, employees report tension as a result of colleagues, their commute from home to work, and because they are not working in their chosen career industry. Rounding out the main aggravators of stress are concerns over poor work-life balance, fear of losing their job, and fear there is no room for them to advance within the company.
Unfortunately, employers don’t always have the ability to resolve all of the stress-inducing aspects for their employees. Employers cannot change the length of an employee’s commute, for example, and often times, employers of especially smaller businesses are unable to offer additional compensation or wage increases. But there are still ways that employers can reduce employee stress, with the potential incentive of increasing productivity.
First, it is up to employers to cultivate a positive working environment. This can be as simple as offering praise and recognition, and when possible, advancement opportunities, incentive programs, and even skill-building sessions. A negative working environment is a leading cause of workers’ insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
Next, it is critical for employers to assess their employees’ workload. Since a heavy workload is one of the top sources of employee stress, employers should take note of how many hours of overtime are being regularly clocked. This doesn’t mean simply to cut out overtime compensation to reduce costs, as this can increase the burden on employees’ finances. But when employees are forced to work longer hours, there is a high risk of burnout, or at least of decreased productivity in those extended hours. Employers should be mindful of when it is time to hire a new person, or if there is a specific seasonal increase in workload to consider taking on a temporary worker to keep up productivity when demands are higher.
This is also why it is important for employers to not remain distant from their workers—they must listen and engage, beyond basic or everyday conversation. It’s no great leap between a lack of communication between departments or staff to frustration and workplace tension. Improved workplace relations reduce stress and help foster a better company culture. A simple way to achieve this is to keep employees updated on company matters and to make continued efforts to engage throughout the day when appropriate, which serves to strengthen morale.
Therefore, when possible, employers should offer some perks. Such workplace perks can go a long way in achieving a reduction in workplace stress. Perhaps the perk can be a flexible work schedule, which allows employees to feel more in control of their work-life balance. Another option might be occasional catered lunches, or gym memberships, or a group activity.
Finally, it is important for employers to encourage relaxation when possible. While studies have proven that slight stress in certain situations can improve productivity, acting as a brief adrenaline boost, too much of that for too long a time will burn out employees, reduce productivity, and potentially lead to a diminished company reputation. Encouraging employees to take vacation time sends a message to employees that the employer values their free time. It also serves to reset stress levels, allowing employees free time to relax and then return to work with a fresh perspective. Between vacations, employers should encourage workers to take small, renewing breaks throughout the business day. This serves to promote a sense of trust and respect between employers and employees, helping to reduce stress and make a better overall environment for everyone.
To discuss ways to manage workplace related stress, contact me at Stephen@PfeifferPhD.com or visit my website www.pfeifferphd.com.