Let’s face it: We can’t necessarily expect work to be fun and relaxing. We go to work to get a job done, and sometimes, that can be stressful. Particularly in for-profit companies, there is always pressure to keep costs down and to increase revenue.
These pressures mean staff are often pushed to meet tight deadlines, achieve difficult goals, solve complex problems, and do more with less. At the same time, work is only one part of an employee’s life. Many are also dealing with issues outside the office, such as family problems or financial challenges.
The Impact of Employee Stress
Employee stress is gaining increasing attention—and for good reason. It can significantly impact employee productivity and retention.
Data suggest that the United States sees $300 billion in lost productivity every year due to workplace stress. In extreme situations, employee stress can even lead to violence. According to a 2016–2017 survey, 10% of respondents said they worked in a violent atmosphere due to workplace stress, and 42% said yelling and verbal abuse are common at work. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they themselves had yelled at coworkers due to workplace stress.
Taking Steps to Minimize the Impacts of Stress
As noted above, stress comes from many sources, both within and outside of the workplace. But, just because some sources of stress occur outside the office doesn’t mean managers and employers can’t take steps to address employee stress through workplace efforts. These can range from better management of workloads and deadlines to health-based initiatives like promoting exercise, diet, and rest.
Negative Impacts of Employee Stress
While some level of stress is to be expected in any business environment where time is money and competitors must be contended with, stress can also reach unhealthy levels, leading to decreased productivity or worse. Here are a few negative consequences of stress on employees and the workplace.
Job performance. Somewhat ironically, while stress is often brought on by pushing to meet tight deadlines or to reach certain production goals, stress is frequently a cause of reduced productivity. Additionally, employees who regularly interact with customers can become less responsive toward them or even display negative attitudes because of their stress.
Turnover. Although there have been many studies to track the relationship between job stress and turnover or turnover intent—i.e., a desire to leave a job regardless of whether the employee actually does leave—it’s hard to put exact numbers on the problem.
One survey found that one in five employees reported leaving a previous job due to stress. Regardless of the exact numbers, the link is intuitive—if people are feeling overly stressed at work, they’ll ultimately look for another job as a means of removing that stress.
Employee health. The link between stress and human health is well researched. Stress can hinder good sleep, cause diet issues and weight gain, and exacerbate conditions like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Violence. Stress can also lead to workplace hostility and violence. As mentioned above, 10% of respondents in one survey said they worked in a violent atmosphere due to workplace stress, and 42% said yelling and verbal abuse are common at work.
Key Sources of Employee Stress
Now that you understand the negative consequences, we’ll look at some of the most frequent causes. There are many potential stressors, so we’ll group them into several broader categories.
Nature of the work. Some work is stressful by its very nature. It may involve high stakes, such as police work or performing life-or-death surgeries, for example. Or, the work may be complicated or beyond the employee’s abilities. On the other hand, excessively boring or monotonous work also can lead to stress.
Conditions of the work. In addition to the work itself, the conditions under which it is performed can create significant stress. The amount of work and the time to complete the work are two of the biggest factors in this regard.
For example, assembling office furniture may be relatively low-stress work generally. But if an employee has until the end of the day to assemble a large amount of furniture spread across multiple locations and has to perform this task on a regular basis, stress could start to become an issue.
Work environment. Work environment encompasses many factors. An unsafe, a noisy, or an unhygienic physical environment can be stressful for those working in that environment. Additionally, conflicts with coworkers, superiors, and subordinates can be a significant source of stress.
Outside stressors. Finally, not all stress observed in the workplace originates in the workplace. Work makes up roughly half of the waking hours of a full-time employee’s life. The other half is typically spent at home or in other personal pursuits. Family life and other personal issues can cause stress that is difficult to leave at the door when coming to work.
Workplace stress is familiar to just about anyone who’s had a job, and most people have experienced stress caused by the factors discussed above. Having a better understanding of the sources of stress is crucial in looking at how to combat it in the workplace.
Managing and Mitigating Employee Stress
Understanding the sources of workplace stress is key to managing and mitigating that stress. Here are a few tips for helping your employees manage stress.
Open communication with employees. This is perhaps the biggest tool in the employers’ and managers’ arsenal when it comes to managing employee stress. Employees need to feel they can be open and honest with their managers and HR about issues causing stress.
This could include conflicts with coworkers or managers, an excessive or a stressful workload, unrealistic time pressures, etc. It’s crucial that managers and HR actually listen and take action as appropriate when employees bring problems to them, or employees will simply stop communicating.
Clear and enforced policies on safety and harassment. Unfortunately, a lot of workplace stress can stem from harassment and unsafe work conditions. Companies need to have clear and well-enforced policies to deal with these issues.
Employees need to know that the company takes violations of those policies seriously and acts on them. Management and leadership set the stage here in terms of their own actions and responses to specific situations.
Employee resources. Many companies provide mental health resources to employees dealing with stress-related or other mental health issues such as depression or substance abuse. It isn’t necessarily the employer’s responsibility to be an employee’s mental healthcare provider, but helping to provide appropriate care and resources can be a big benefit to both the employee and the organization.
Extracurriculars. Finally, many companies manage stress by encouraging nonwork activities. These can take place during or outside of office hours. Work-sponsored sports teams, potlucks, happy hours, company discounts on gyms, and other offerings are examples of how companies work to promote camaraderie in the workplace and physical activity. These can be effective at reducing workplace stress.
Some level of stress is to be expected in the workplace; however, stress can reach levels that negatively impact job performance, employee retention, and even employee health and safety. All companies should be aware of the causes and impacts of workplace stress and have structures and policies in place to help address them.
Hopefully, we’ve made the case that excessive stress is a negative for the workplace and have illustrated some specific negative impacts. Keep the information outlined above in mind when trying to manage and mitigate your employees’ stress.