July 25, 2023

The Employer’s Role in Reducing Stress in the Workplace

by | Jul 25, 2023 | Workplace Issues

Research shows that 83% of American workers experience work-related stress and 1 in 4 state that work is their top stressor in life. Some workplace stress is inevitable, but employers play an influential role in creating a healthy environment for their team. Happy employees benefit everyone: they’re physically healthier, more likely to be engaged and productive, and they stay in their roles longer. Here are some important steps employers should consider implementing.

Know What’s Causing Stress

If you want to reduce stress, you have to identify what’s contributing to stress in the first place. What are your employees worried about? When are ruptures happening between you and the team? How can you sense when people are pulling away from their work or getting distracted?

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, but when it’s prevalent at work, it’s often due to:

Micromanaging: No adult likes feeling like someone is watching their every move. Micromanaging comes across as controlling and sends a message that you don’t really trust your team. This can ramp up stress in the workplace.

Unrealistic expectations: Employees are likely to feel stressed when their managers have unrealistic expectations about their job duties or performance. This is especially true if these expectations are more implicit rather than mutually agreed upon.

Staffing issues: If employees feel stretched too thin, they have to absorb more responsibilities. Some people are willing to take this challenge on temporarily. But, over time, they will start to either burn out or get resentful. 

Poor communication: Healthy communication is the cornerstone of any productive workplace. When communication is hostile, vague, absent, or misleading, it affects everyone involved. When employees feel like they don’t know what their manager genuinely needs from them, they’re bound to feel stressed.

Burnout/compassion fatigue: Certain fields like healthcare, law enforcement, and education coincide with higher rates of burnout or compassion fatigue. An employer could be doing everything “right,” but the work itself is arduous and can exacerbate stress. Also read: How to Recover from Burnout

Poor compensation: Money matters, and while it may not be everything in a job, underpaying employees has serious consequences. People are more likely to feel stressed, burnt out, apathetic, or disconnected from work. They’re also more likely to leave once another opportunity presents itself. 

Sense of stagnation: Not all employees value growing with a company, but limited growth opportunities pose problems in the workplace. People want to feel empowered and feel like they can expand their talent and be acknowledged for it.

Recognize Signs of Stress at Work 

Stress may not always be obvious, but it’s important that employers can identify some of the common signs indicating that their employees are struggling. Here are some red flags to look out for:

Sarcasm/cynicism: Dark humor often coincides with work, but if that’s the consistent climate at the office, it’s time to take a step back. Sarcasm can be a way people express anger.

Frequent absences: Missing too much work often means that someone feels overwhelmed, stressed, or disconnected from their job (or all of the above). It can also mean that work is making them feel physically ill.

Ongoing productivity issues: If your team is struggling to get things done or communicate how they’re doing on their assignments, stress may be prevalent. It may mean people are losing interest in their work or feeling overwhelmed by their expectations.

Disconnected team: Stressed team members are less likely to seek social support and feel connected in the workplace. You may see higher rates of isolation, and team meetings might feel quieter and more awkward as a result.

High staff turnover: If you can’t retain employees, it’s time to look at what’s driving this pattern. Stress can be a major contributor, whether that stress speaks to poor compensation, overly high work expectations, or an unhealthy work environment.

Ask Employees How You Can Support Them

Instead of guessing what might help reduce stress, prioritize seeking feedback from your staff directly. You can solicit feedback in several ways: direct conversations, feedback forms, wellness surveys, or team meetings.

Keep in mind that people may be nervous to share what they want. This is especially true if they’ve had experiences of their needs being disregarded in the past. It can be helpful to provide them with potential options that you’ve already reviewed, such as more opportunities for flexible work or delegating certain types of tasks.

The most important thing to do is genuinely listen. Take in the feedback honestly. If you notice trends in what your employees tell you, pay attention. You may not be able to fix things immediately, but you should have a sense of what needs to change soon.

Remember that talking about support isn’t a one-time conversation. Consider having routine check-ins every quarter or annually to assess progress. 

Prioritize Your Employees’ Well-Being

At first, this may seem like an obvious suggestion, but it’s worth reflecting further. Many employers focus on what people bring to their company. They think of them in terms of attendance, performance, or other quantifiable data. 

But employees are people, and they have entire lives outside of the workplace. Many have important relationships, families, and hobbies. They have emotional and personal needs to attend to on a regular basis.

No job is so important that someone should feel they must sacrifice their well-being for it. If employees feel this way, there’s a problem. Change starts by recognizing that there must be an emphasis on balance- this may come in the form of more personal time off, flexible scheduling, breaks in the work day, and rethinking communication strategies off the clock.

Don’t Praise Workaholism 

Along with encouraging your employees to take care of themselves, try to avoid reinforcing workaholic tendencies. Doing so only sends mixed messages. 

Most workplaces have at least one person who goes above and beyond the call of duty. This employee naturally tends to be a team favorite- they are loyal and dependable. And while these are honorable traits, it’s important to consider that employees shouldn’t feel obligated to “do extra credit” all the time.

Of course, you will, at times, run into situations where you might need people to give a bit more. Most people are happy to oblige when they know this is a rare exception and not the standard rule. When they think they need to consistently do more, they can quickly become resentful.

Give Routine Feedback and Performance Reviews

Employees are more likely to feel stressed when they don’t know what their manager thinks about their performance. Giving feedback is the best way to mitigate this potential problem.

A performance review shouldn’t contain any surprises. Ultimately, your employees should know how they’re doing on a regular basis. Be clear about the job expectations and, if improvements need to be made, let people know what you need quickly.

In addition, encourage ongoing sharing and input from your employees. Take in their suggestions about how they think they’re doing at work. Does anything need to be altered? Do you need to provide additional training or resources? 

Advocate For Better Pay

Money doesn’t fix stress problems nor does it excuse toxic workplaces. But research consistently shows that low pay contributes to more stress at work.

When an employee isn’t adequately compensated, several domino effects can occur. First, poor compensation is associated with lower productivity. There’s simply less motivation for employees to care about their work and strive for high performance. Turnover also becomes a problem, as employees tend to look elsewhere for opportunities. 

In most cases, paying employees above the market rate and treating them respectfully maintains longer retention. This inadvertently reduces costs, as you’ll be spending much less time recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training new staff. 

If you can’t raise salaries, look for alternatives. This may include one-time bonuses, more vacation time, or extra paid time off. You can also consider more unconventional strategies like tuition reimbursement, compensation for wellness programs, or transportation stipends.

Advocate for Better Benefits

More monetary compensation is one of the best ways to reduce stress in the workplace. But benefits also matter, particularly when it comes to better health insurance, retirement plans, and other types of reimbursements.

That said, it’s helpful to really talk to your team to see what they value. You might think they want a better retirement match, but they might be more interested in having the ability to work half days on Fridays. 

In all cases, remember that it’s important to care for your employees as much as possible. Never give people pushback for needing to take care of their physical or mental health- you want to model being a workplace that honors employees going to therapy or the doctor or seeing their child’s school play. 

Promote More Social Activities 

Your employees invest significant time into their jobs, and they spend the bulk of their days with their colleagues. When teams are cohesive, people generally feel happier at work. They look forward to collaborating together.

With that, it can be helpful to prioritize making an enjoyable atmosphere. This can include organizing team lunches, social events, group trainings, or company trips. 

Remember that not every employee values building formative relationships at work. Nobody likes feeling pressured to socialize after hours. Make these events optional unless they are a substitute for normal workplace tasks.

Aim to Reduce Uncertainty

Employees undoubtedly feel stressed when they sense (or see) layoffs or budget cuts occurring. These trends create intense anxiety that can permeate the workplace. 

Of course, you can’t always prevent such shifts from happening. But it’s important that you give employees opportunities to grow their skillset and continue adding value to the company. With that, as much as possible, be transparent in your communication. Don’t hide change. And if you don’t know all the answers about what’s to come, acknowledge that. Employees are far more likely to respect you when they can inherently trust you. 

Acknowledge Achievements and Give Positive Reinforcement

People want to know when they’re doing a good job. This is a human need that transcends age or type of career.

Make a genuine effort to acknowledge performance and contribution. In addition, send compassionate emails letting your team know you appreciate them. Make comments during team meetings. Cultivate making a team environment that prioritizes sharing gratitude.

Final Thoughts

You can’t shield your employees from all stress at work. But you should strive to make work a safe, enjoyable, and respectful space. Ideally, people should feel comfortable enough to talk to you if they’re struggling. If something isn’t working or if you sense that people feel constantly overwhelmed, determine the source and take immediate steps to try to improve the situation.

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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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