Stress is making workers sick. From high blood pressure to heart disease to mental health issues, employees are increasingly at risk due to stressors in the workplace. Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford School of Business, recently told the Boston Globe that more than 100,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to adverse work conditions. That figure, which doesn’t account for workplace injuries, reflects only those deaths tied to “workplace management.” As American workers push themselves harder than ever to get ahead (or just maintain their place) at work, businesses are striving to do more with less – and employees are feeling the strain. Despite this grim development, employers can find ways to minimize stress in the workplace.
Stress manifests itself in different ways in the work setting: employee absences, increased doctor visits and extreme moods or outbursts, for instance – and it’s important for employers to watch for these signs and adjust accordingly. Supervisors and business leaders control many of the factors at work that ensure a colleague’s workload is manageable and their environment is comfortable and conducive to productivity.
Let’s say a typically productive employee begins slipping – calling in sick or showing physical signs of stress, such as exhaustion – it’s a good time to check in with the employee. Tactfully, ask how they’re doing. A conversation alone can help minimize stress. Are they overloaded? Do they feel they’ve been forced to take on too much responsibility? Is there anything that can be done to help ease their burden at work or, if possible, make things easier outside the office? The nature of the employee’s difficulties may not fall within the scope of the workplace, but even just a bit of empathy can show a worker that they’re valued. Regular check-ins open a dialogue that could help a colleague manage and possibly solve their problems.
Today’s workers are under extreme pressure to produce. With post-Covid staffing shortages and increased costs of doing business, working – whether in or out of the office – can be an intense and difficult experience. Quotas and sales figures hang over the heads of many employees. And in our increasingly data-driven society, key performance indicators (KPIs) add new levels of stress for others. Under pressure to hit their numbers, employees may work extra hours, possibly foregoing sleep, exercise and down time with family.
In light of all this, employers should prioritize providing resources to help employees minimize stress. Offering a medical plan that includes mental health services can help workers seek help when needed. Offering a “quiet room” or a day off to a stressed out employee can make all the difference. In one study, doctors took blood pressure readings of employees under extreme stress and noted their elevated numbers. After a 5-10 minute break in a quiet environment, when the immediate stress had subsided, those individuals’ blood pressure readings had decreased.
Again, check in with your employees on their workload, stress levels and, if appropriate, home life. Establish a process for evaluating workers and helping to lower their stress and anxiety. These processes might include reviewing the employee’s workload, meeting with the employee to determine the sources of workplace stress or connecting the employee to healthcare resources. Reducing stress in the workplace has a cascading effect on productivity, but hopefully we’re all looking out for the well-being of our colleagues simply for its own sake. It’s up to employers to set that example.
Looking for more tips on managing your workforce? Check out the PeopleCaddie blog.