Workplace stress plagues the American workforce. Recent surveys suggest that 40% of workers find their jobs to be “very stressful” and 26% are often burned out by them. The economy’s recent downturn makes matters even worse: workers may feel a need to prove their value at the same time that supervisors are being forced to do more with fewer resources.
All this employee stress can take a heavy toll on your business—in high turnover, frequent illness, increased workers’ comp premiums and reduced productivity. In fact, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that workers who take days off because of stress will be away from the job for about 20 days. And healthcare expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high stress levels, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
You can take steps to stem the effects of stress in your workplace. The solution often lies in making organizational changes that will improve working conditions.
400+ pages of state-specific, easy-read reference materials at your fingertips—fully updated! Check out the Guide to Employment Law for California Employers and get up to speed on everything you need to know.
How To Lower Stress
Here are 10 effective ways you can decrease—or prevent—employee stress and create a more positive and productive work environment:
- Give employees more control over job performance. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workers who have some control over how they do their jobs take greater pride in their work and are more productive, have more self-confidence and cope better with job stress. Allow employees to make decisions, undertake new challenges and learn from their mistakes.
- Provide opportunities for employee interaction. NIOSH suggests that stress increases when employers limit or monitor conversations between employees. Conversely, problem solving and productivity are enhanced when employees can talk freely among themselves. Teamwork can be fostered by encouraging cooperative work groups.
- Adjust expectations to cutbacks in staffing and budgets. Staff reductions and budget cuts increase stress levels by overburdening remaining workers. So today’s leaner budgets call for careful prioritizing, and smaller workforces require prudent management of workloads. Avoid taking on new projects that your employees can’t adequately handle.
- Communicate with employees. NIOSH advises that you try to keep workers abreast of what’s going on in your organization—the good news and the bad. Provide employees with an opportunity to air their concerns informally with their supervisors, in meetings or perhaps in a Q&A column in a company newsletter.
- Reduce conflicts. Frequent personal conflicts can increase workplace stress and even trigger workplace violence. Train managers and employees to resolve conflicts through open and respectful communication and negotiation. You can also minimize job conflicts by clearly defining job expectations and treating employees fairly and equally.
- Encourage employees to use their vacation leave. Be sure that workers take their vacation time instead of letting it accrue indefinitely or getting paid for it. Employees who have an opportunity to relax and rejuvenate away from the office develop fewer stress-related ailments. They are also more alert and energetic when they return.
- Maintain employee benefits. Stress levels rise when valuable benefits such as health insurance, vacation pay and sick leave are cut back. Weigh the savings from reducing benefits against the potentially high costs of lowered productivity and burnout.
- Cut down on red tape. Complex approval procedures can frustrate and discourage employees. Streamlining red tape—for example giving a modest increase in spending authority without supervisor approval—can give an employee a greater sense of control over the job.
- Recognize and reward employee contributions. According to NIOSH, bonuses, achievement awards or public praise for a job well done can pay off in boosted productivity, loyalty and morale. Don’t let talented employees think they might be better appreciated elsewhere.
- Examine environmental factors. Employee stress can be exacerbated by environmental conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution or ergonomic problems. Assess your workplace and consider environmental solutions to reduce stress and improve employee morale and productivity.
For more information on managing workplace stress, obtain a free NIOSH booklet online at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/ or call NIOSH at (800) 356-4674.