No question, modern life is stressful. Most of us live in a pressure cooker of worries about work, money, health, family responsibilities like caring for children or aging parents, and the technology that keeps us in touch with everyone, all the time.
What do those other elements have to do with the workplace? A lot. Surveys find that 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job. Almost half need help learning to deal with stress — or want their coworkers to get help.
Highly stressed employees put your business at risk in several ways. Ongoing high stress levels are associated with greater risk of heart attacks and stroke. Under stress, people are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, from overeating to alcohol consumption to drug abuse. Any of these can raise the danger of on-the-job accidents. In extreme cases, stress can magnify workplace bullying or violence.
Red flags! Signs and symptoms of workplace stress
You might not know if your employees are stressed. In fact, just 40 percent of employees suffering from stress at work talk to their employer about it.
Still, managers can watch for symptoms of stress on the job. Signs of a stressful workplace include:
- Increased absenteeism. More interpersonal problems.
- More frequent accidents and injuries.
- Employees working overtime.
- Employees skipping breaks and vacations.
- Missed deadlines or poorly completed jobs.
- More customer complaints or dissatisfaction.
- Difficulty attracting new employees.
6 steps to reduce workplace stress
A NIOSH report revealed that work is the No. 1 stressor for 25 percent of workers. To help workers cope with stress and to reduce its long-term effects, try these techniques:
- Communicate clearly. Uncertainty and lack of control create stress. Build an organization that lets workers know what to expect. Provide advance notice about changing schedules, changing responsibilities or other challenges. Set up systems for employees to provide feedback and get questions answered.
- Build social support. Having social support is a great way to reduce stress and, as an added bonus, minimize turnover. Create a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and bullying.
- Teach healthy ways of coping. Consider offering a worksite wellness program that helps employees learn to manage stress. Pinnacol offers one to all policyholders at no cost. Offer healthy snacks in vending machines, encourage stress-busting meditation techniques, and make exercise available to everyone — whether with midday walks, an on-site gym or child care that reduces the stress of commuting.
- Recognize hard work. Show that you see and value workers’ efforts. You might name an employee of the month, recognize leaders in a meeting, or offer special rewards, outings or workplace-wide celebrations.
- Destigmatize stress. Share information about the risks of stress via the intranet, newsletters, posters or events, and train managers to have an open-door policy about stress. Listen and respond to employees’ needs. It can be difficult to rearrange schedules or add workers to help with workload — but it is downright dangerous to maintain an unhealthy workplace for the long term.
- Understand PTSD. Some workers may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a behavioral condition that occurs in up to 10 percent of people. It occurs among military veterans, as well as police and fire professionals, health workers and others.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore stress on the job. Simply acknowledging stress can bring relief to your workforce — and help your organization become happier and more productive.