Employee stress is thought to be the leading health risk in the workplace and a serious hazard. The American Institute of Stress states that in the United States, about one million people are absent from work each day because of stress (American Institute of Stress, 2004). This has also resulted in more than 10 billion dollars in lost workdays for executives. Although it is difficult to be anything more than supportive to your employees dealing with their personal stressors, managers may be “key” in helping their employees deal with workplace stress (Collie, 2005).
The following are common workplace stressors identified by the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health (Collie, 2005):
- “The Treadmill Syndrome” – Employees experiencing this problem feel that they can never finish their tasks, they have too much to do, and need a 24-hour workday.
Possible Solutions: Check in with your employees often about their workloads. Don’t assume that everyone is comfortable with the same workload. If there are complaints over being overwhelmed, consider another hire for help or delegating tasks.
- Constant Interruptions – This stressor occurs when the employee feels that they cannot finish their work due to constant interruptions including phone calls, demanding supervisors, and constant foot-traffic into the work areas.
Possible Solutions: Be upfront about frequent interruptions in the early stages of the interview process. If you have an employee who complains about constant interruptions, see what you can do to accommodate a better workspace for them. This may include moving their desk, allowing them to turn their phone off and perhaps even working remotely.
- Uncertainty – This occurs when changes constantly occur without reason and clear communication.
Possible Solutions: Keep employees informed! Those three words are so important to keep your employees’ uncertainty nerves calmed. Whether they are large or small changes, communicate them. Even if they do not feel that the changes are significant, they will appreciate the efforts.
- Feelings of Mistrust and Unfairness – When employees cannot trust management, their performance suffers and stress increases.
Possible Solutions: Treat all of your employees fairly. The truth is, treating even one favorably or unfavorably affects everyone’s morale. Be sure to be honest with employees when they ask questions, and if you cannot communicate the answer, tell them that.
- Unclear Company Focus and Policies – When policies are ambiguous and employees are uncertain of the company focus, employees begin to stress.
Possible Solutions: Keep your policies in a working document and communicate the changes with the employees. If large changes occur, offer training so employees understand the policies as well as the reasoning behind them.
- Ambiguous Communication about Positions – When employees stress about whether or not their positions are secure they begin to feel helpless.
Possible Solutions: Wouldn’t you want to know that your job is secure? Of course! So do your employees! Be honest about struggles that could affect the business but be reassuring whenever possible. You will likely lose your best employees first if feelings of job uncertainty are lingering around the office.
- Lack of Feedback – When employees have no idea if they are meeting expectations, how they can improve, and how they are performing, stress results.
Possible Solutions: There are mixed reviews of standard performance appraisals but feedback is still important. Consider implementing regular meetings with your employees on a monthly or quarterly basis. Also, consider feedback on the spot when appropriate. This allows employees to evaluate where they are and how they are doing.
- Lack of Appreciation – When management fails to show employees that they are appreciated, employees begin to stress, compromising future initiatives on the employees’ part.
Possible Solutions: Why put forth any extra effort if it’s not noticed? Show your employees that you appreciate them; this can be as simple as utilizing “thank you” or holding an employee appreciation event.
- Inadequate Communication – When communication within an organization is poor, employees don’t know what to think, rumors begin, and so does stress.
Possible Solutions: Communication seems simple, but it wouldn’t be a stressor if it was a given. Communication doesn’t only refer to the top-down approach but also from the front-line up. Bottom-up communication not only shows employees that the managers care, but may also bring forth some great suggestions and ideas to the management.
- Inability to Control – The most commonly cited stressor within the workplace is the feeling of no control. Employees may stress about their lack of control over the outcome of a project or inability to contribute.
Possible Solutions: Involve the employees in decision-making, who knows the work better than they do? Employees love when their individual contributions fit into the big picture.
Dani Kimlinger, MHA
Human Resources Specialist
Collie, D. (2005, August). Top Ten Workplace Stressors. HillsOrient. Retrieved from http://www.hillsorient.com/articles/2005/08/202.html
The American Institute of Stress. (2004). Job Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/job.htm