manage stress at work

Most of the stress we experience comes from our jobs and worksites. Stressed workers are more likely to smoke, drink, be inactive, eat poorly, have relationship issues, and get sick more often. All of this means decreased productivity.

Job stress costs billions of dollars every year because it leads to more absenteeism, medical expenses, and workers compensation claims.

I’ve been in the worksite wellness industry for 30 years.  In that time I’ve gathered a comprehensive list of the main causes of worksite stress.  I’ve also discovered successful ways to help employers reduce stress in the worksite and help employees manage stress.

Worksites and wellness programs that have good control of stress at work have healthier, more productive employees.  They also have lower health care costs.

Here is a quick peek at the 24 ways employers can manage stress at work.

1) Create and honor leadership structure and roles
2) Give feedback to employees
3) Share the company vision with employees
4) Help employees understand how their roles contribute to company success
5) Help employees understand their job responsibilities
6) Have reasonable work shifts
7) Encouraged breaks during the day
8) Give assignments that challenge abilities without overwhelming employees
9) Have employees rotate during shifts from high to lower stress tasks
10) Consider the use of flextime or other alternative work schedules
11) Involve employees in decisions on how assigned tasks are performed
12) Provide resources and supplies needed to perform assigned tasks
13) Provide training and continuing education opportunities
15) Encourage support for each other in a team atmosphere
16) Be available to help and advise when needed
17) Create and encourage a spirit of cooperation and respect at work
18) Make programs or tools available to help employees relieve stress
19) Have realistic opportunities to grow, advance, and be promoted
20) Communicate about potential changes to the company
21) Give adequate notice when there is a change in policy or procedure
22) Enforce a pleasant and safe working environment
23) Give sufficient physical space to do their jobs
24) Create an environment that is as quiet as possible given the type of work

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Stress That Comes from Poor Leadership

1) Lack of understanding about leadership structure and roles

A lack of understanding about leadership structure creates stress. When employees understand leadership structure, there is less conflict, which enhances productivity and morale.

Do This: Create and honor a clear leadership structure so everyone knows to whom they are accountable. This will improve the efficiency of work and contribute to a more relaxed environment.

 

2) Lack of job feedback from leadership

Unless employees receive feedback, they can worry about their job performance even when they are doing well. When leaders communicate with a spirit of encouragement, employees feel reassured and are more likely to communicate with leaders, especially during difficult challenges.

Do This: Employees need regular performance reviews. Employees need to know if they are exceeding your expectations or have things they can improve. Involving them in the process and letting them to set their own improvement goals will improve relationships and increase job satisfaction.

Do This: Encourage sharing in staff meetings. Ask for employee suggestions then share them at meetings. This will increase trust, motivation, and performance, all of which reduce stress.

Do This: Communicate regularly by email, newsletters, calls, chats, etc. This builds a relationship of trust. Whatever the form of communication, make the message simple, clear, and relevant.

 

3) Employees need to understand company vision

When employees understand company vision, they can see how their efforts fit into the big picture and it is easier for them to focus their energy on helping achieve company goals. Understanding and working toward a shared vision gives work a higher meaning, improves performance, and reduces stress. This is also true for stress management and wellness programs. Here is everything we know about getting strong leadership support for wellness efforts.

Do This: Consistently share the company vision with employees. Make it easy and fun to remember. Give your employees a small token to remind them of the shared vision!

 

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4) Employees need to understand how their roles contribute to company success

When employees understand how their role fits with company goals, they will be more likely to engage and contribute.  They will also develop a sense of control over their work duties, which tends to lower stress.

Do This: Make sure that employees know the company goals and have a chance to identify ways they contribute. Small group meetings are a good way to help employees connect company goals to individual roles.

Leaders can reinforce the importance of employee roles when they praise employees. Recognition results in increased security and productivity, and can decrease stress.

 

5) Employees need to understand their job responsibilities

It is stressful when job expectations are confusing. When employees understand job responsibilities, they will feel calmer and perform better. Work stress and employee health have a direct impact on employee productivity.

Do This: Make sure every employee has a specific job description that they helped create. Provide guidelines but let them tweak it. This description should outline daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly responsibilities. Make sure the job description provides the employee with a chance to grow and be rewarded.

 

Stress Caused by Unhealthy Workloads

6) Work shifts need to be reasonable

Too many hours of demanding work will wear down and exhaust employees. Everyone needs time away from work to rest, recharge, and take care of other duties.  A work/life balance helps maintain physical and emotional health and improves productivity.

Do This: Limit work shifts 10 hours or less and make sure employees have adequate time to rest before their next shift. This will improve morale and productivity, and reduce the risk of work injuries.

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7) Employees should be encouraged to take breaks during the day

Short breaks throughout the day allow employees to recharge and refocus. Regular breaks help employees work more effectively.

Do This: Encourage employees to take regular mini-breaks. If leaders take breaks and invite others to join, they likely will. This will help set the acceptable length and type of a break.  Walk for five minutes, stretch, get some fresh air, meditate, listen to music, or even just get a glass of water. Also suggest that employees get away from their desks during the lunch hour.

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8) Employee assignments should challenge their abilities without overwhelming them

Employees need to be challenged but not overloaded. Challenge helps employees develop skills, makes work interesting, and helps maintain motivation.

But it is just not possible for people to perform well for extended periods of time when workloads are to heavy. Working this way leads to irritability, exhaustion, reduced productivity and ultimately, illness, and injury.

Do This: Give employees the option of calling a “time out” when they feel overwhelmed. This will help establish a norm around working smarter, not harder.  Employees can easily identify unproductive activities when asked. Asking them on a periodic basis will help you keep your operations streamlined.

 

Stress Caused by Lack of Work Flexibility

9) Employees should be able to rotate during shifts from high to lower stress tasks

High-stress tasks are sometimes an unavoidable part of work. However, performing these tasks without relief or variation can wear employees down to a point of exhaustion. Working at high-stress tasks for extended amounts of time will cause their work and health to suffer.

Do This: Schedule regular breaks for employees who perform high-stress activities. Give them assignments that vary by stress level so they can manage their workload by rotating tasks.  Where employees work in teams, encourage job sharing so that no one person has a consistently heavy load.

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10) Employees should be able to conveniently change work hours when needed

Allowing employees to have some control over their work schedule will reduce stress levels.  A worker with schedule flexibility is better able to find work/life balance, and is generally happier, more productive and more engaged at work.

For example, if an employee can choose when to start and finish work, they can be available for family needs, arrange to miss peak rush hour traffic, create time for exercise, etc.

Do This: Consider the use of flextime or other alternative work schedules such as part time, staggered hours, job sharing, shift working, and even telecommuting. These policies allow employees to manage stressful factors in all parts of their life.

 

11) Employees need a say in how assigned tasks are performed

When employers have control over every aspect of their employee’s work it can cause employees to feel powerless. This is a major source of stress. Employees need some control regarding their responsibilities and a way to alter their tasks as necessary.

Do This:  Give your employees the opportunity to adjust their jobs as needed. Allow them to make decisions that affect their productivity and give them control over a portion of their work.

Employees can even be put in teams that make decisions together on how to perform given tasks. Employees know their own strengths and weaknesses better than management.  As teams regularly meet, review and evaluate performance, they can decide what is necessary to achieve the outcomes you desire.

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Stress Caused by Lack of Resources

12) Employees should have resources and supplies needed to perform assigned tasks

Job stress is the “harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.” Employees who are expected to perform tasks without necessary resources and supplies will feel powerless and become stressed as a result.

Do This:  Make certain that the work you are delegating can be achieved with the resources on hand. Provide a way to clearly communicate employee needs and then supply them with appropriate resources.

 

13) Employees need training to do their jobs well

One source of job stress is the disparity between a person’s capabilities and the requirements of the job they are asked to perform. Often, this stress can be alleviated with training and education. An employee who is properly trained and educated will have the confidence and ability they need to do their job well.

Do This: Provide training and continuing education for your employees. Most employers require new hires to be trained, but many do not provide on-going training.

Ask more experienced employees to assist in trainings. This will improve morale and will help transfer institutional knowledge from older to younger workers.

You can also allow employees to rotate through other divisions of the company for cross-training, provide access to external education at colleges or training centers, or even offer funding for distance learning through online programs.

Where possible, completion of training should be recognized and praised. Remember to regularly assess training programs by asking those who have been trained for their input and suggestions.

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14) Employees need to communicate with managers and co-workers

When employees are able to communicate with those they work with, it will alleviate much of their stress. Just knowing the lines of communication are open between an employee and their manager helps tremendously. Often, people don’t even need their situation to be changed, they just need someone to provide a listening ear and some positive encouragement to keep them going. Fifteen minutes of talking to a sympathetic co-worker can undo days of stress and worry.

Do This: Hold regular meetings with employees to discuss problems, workloads, concerns, and adjustments that need to be made. Allow them the time to communicate. Be available for individual consultations and listen when people need to talk with you.

Hold small group meetings for employees to voice their concerns and interact with each other. Often, many have the same concerns and viable solutions can be brainstormed.

Staff retreats and team building activities can help co-workers build relationships and learn to depend upon each other for help. Support among those at work is an important defense against employee stress.

 

Workplace Stress Caused by Lack of Social Support

15) Employees need support in a team atmosphere

People who have a support network are much more secure in their ability to cope with stress. This support is especially important at work. Stress is magnified if employees have to deal with problems without support of any kind.

Do This: Arrange for small group interactions where employees can get to know each other on an individual level. This is most effective when combined with training and team building activities. Constructive interaction helps cultivate meaningful relationships.

You can also provide opportunities for social interaction outside of work. Meeting in a less official manner may give people a chance to laugh together. Humor is a great way to cope with stress. A good laugh can do wonders for your employees.

Your company may even want to create a team approach to some assignments which can help prevent isolation. When people know they are part of a team, it is easier for them to function at work.

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16) Supervisors should be available to help and advise when needed

Stress is compounded when employees are unable to communicate. Employees will be much more willing to seek help when they have understanding supervisors who will listen and point them to appropriate help.

Do This: Train your leaders to recognize stress in those they work with and what they can do to prevent it from becoming a problem. Provide leaders with helpful resources and encourage them to share the resources with other employees.

 

17) There should be a spirit of cooperation and respect at work

A hostile work environment contributes to stress and poor health. A spirit of cooperation and support are essential for the well-being of your employees and the progress of your organization.

Do This: Be an example of what you want to see in employees. Respect them and they will be more respectful of each other. You set the tone. If employees feel that they have the support of others, they will be much more likely to follow suit.

Feeling respected and respecting others creates unity in the workplace and builds relationships of trust. Trust is the basis of a positive work environment and it can be a valuable buffer against the negative effects of stress.

 

18) Programs or tools should be make made available to help employees relieve stress

Although the first line of defense against job-related stress should be modifying the work environment, educating employees on the symptoms, causes, and treatments for stress can also be of great benefit.

Do This: Offer a stress management program to help your employees learn the skills and tools they need to reduce stress.  These techniques may include time management, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, assertiveness training, and changing negative self-talk.

WellSteps provide employers with campaigns and challenges designed to help employees manage stress and help employers create a stress free workplace.

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Stress management training can be provided by EAP professionals or by outside experts and can be integrated into existing training meetings.

Physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce stress. You could encourage employees to increase their physical activity by starting a walking club, providing employee discounts to health clubs, or bringing in fitness professionals for guest classes.

Discussion groups where employees can share techniques with each other are helpful. For example, groups that focus on coping with domestic stress (e.g. parenting, raising teens, etc).

Remember, unless the root causes of stress in the organization are addressed, the effects of stress reduction techniques will be short lived.

 

Stress at Work Caused by Lack of Growth Opportunities

19) Employees need realistic opportunities to grow, advance and be promoted

Employees need opportunities to advance and grow. If employees do not see these opportunities, their morale and performance may suffer.

Do This: Recognize and reward employees appropriately when they perform well. When there is an organized system for recognition and advancement, employees will see that their efforts will be noticed. Provide opportunities for career advancement and employees will rise to the challenge.

 

20) Employees want and need job security

Employees face growing job insecurity. Downsizing, layoffs, and budget cuts are increasingly common. The result of this uncertainty is stress.

Do This: Give your employees opportunities to expand their skills in order to increase their value to the organization. But no matter what, communicate with your employees. Let them know about changes that may be taking place. Even if you don’t know all the answers, be honest and upfront and work with them the best you can.

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Lack of Good Policies and Environments to Manage Stress

21) Employees should be given adequate notice when there is a change in policy or procedure

Change is stressful, especially when dealing with employment issues. However, the nature of the workplace is such that change is inevitable. If employees are advised early of changes in policy or procedure, the transition is much easier and less stressful as a result.

Do This: Talk to your employees. Let them know what is going on and keep them informed about future plans as early as you can. Discussing changes with them may open up valuable input from them so you can find the most effective solutions.

 

22) Employees need a pleasant and safe working environment

Often, employees do not have control over their working environment. Hazards, distractions and annoyances can be stressful, especially if the employee can do nothing to change it.

Such stressors may include chemical agents like toxins, physical agents such as heat, radiation, cold, poor air quality, poor lighting, and other safety hazards. Employees may also be experiencing repetitive work and awkward work positions, especially those caused by computers, and heavy lifting.

Although individual opinions may differ, certain working conditions are stressful to almost everyone and should be addressed. A harsh and uninviting workplace can be a deterrent to the productivity and mental health of those working in it.

Do This: Talk to employees about their work environment.  Give them the opportunity to voice concerns or frustrations about aspects that are harmful or irritating. Make appropriate changes or suggest ways for them to work around such disturbances.

Treat their concerns with respect and attention doing what you can to help them feel comfortable in their workspace.

You may want to assign a certain employee or group of employees to the task of making the workplace safe, comfortable, and ergonomically correct. They can collect grievances and find solutions to valid complaints.

The courts have become increasingly receptive to both labor and employee organizations who have complained about stressful conditions at work. It would be to your benefit to work with your employees on this issue.

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23) Employees need sufficient physical space to do their jobs

Employees working in a comfortable space feel more in control of their situation, thus reducing work related stress. It is important that they have enough space to easily complete their assignments, especially in times of high stress.

Do This: Make it possible for each employee to have a space of their own that is adequate for them to do their work. Allow them to make the space their own so they feel comfortable there.

 

24) Employees need an environment that is as quiet as possible given the type of work

Noise is a major factor in environmental stress. Having to work in stressful situations where the noise level is high increases stress dramatically. For many jobs, employees need a quiet work place so they can concentrate on the tasks they have to accomplish.

Do This: Find ways to minimize noise in the office. Ask for employee suggestions and implement guidelines that keep the noise down.

Supply noise minimizing headphones, install noise blocking computer programs, insulate walls and ceilings, place sound absorbing partitions between desks, separate workers, or use other noise minimizing tactics.

Do what you need to in order to help your employees concentrate so they can appropriately do their work.

 

As one of the nation’s most effective wellness programs WellSteps helps employees manage stress and reduce stress at work. We help worksites implement all of these worksite stress management strategies.

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About The Author

Dr. Steve Aldana

Dr. Aldana is the CEO of Wellsteps, a worksite wellness solution that leads the nation in wellness program deployment and engagement. Dr. Aldana authored over 75 scientific papers and 7 books on health risk management, healthy living, and health promotion programs. He has given over 350 keynote speeches across the U.S. on the ability of good nutrition and regular exercise to prevent, arrest, and reverse many chronic diseases. Email him at: steve@wellsteps.com