Stress is an issue for everyone, from the waitress at your local café to the CEO of a billion-dollar company. While pressure can be a good tool for motivating your workforce, constant stress can have the exact opposite effect!

Stress can have a negative impact on work life, home life, health and wellbeing, but it can also negatively affect your organisation.. Absenteeism, employee turnover and disengagement can all be symptoms of a stress-related problem.

Ensuring employees are not putting too much pressure on themselves or others is not only good for them, it’s good for the business. In this post, we look at what causes workplace stress, what impact it has on employees and the business, and what can you do about it.

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What Can Cause Stress in the Workplace?

While employees can be stressed at work due to pressures at home, often the workplace can be their main source of strain. There are many causes of workplace stress.

Research has found that more than 50% of employees from 12 countries cite inadequate staffing as the number one cause of workplace stress. As you can imagine, inadequate staffing places a considerable amount of pressure on employees tasked with completing more work with fewer resources.

Another stressor is the pressure to work at optimum levels constantly. Many employees who feel like they may be underperforming – or feel unable to perform to such high expectations – fear being laid off, which adds more undue pressure on their work life.

While it’s good to have goals to help employees meet expectations, operating under a consistent level of strain can make it difficult for employees to become motivated if there is no increase in job satisfaction.

Naturally, the more employees feel helpless or out of control, the more susceptible they are to experiencing a spike in stress levels.

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The Effects of Workplace Stress on the Workplace

The health and wellbeing of your employees can greatly affect your workplace and employee productivity. Employees suffering from high levels of stress can become apathetic towards work, unproductive, and less engaged.

Indeed, a 2012 study found that 77% of stressed employees reported a loss in daily productivity, while 45% said they missed three or more days per year due to stress. In fact, research has found that highly stressed employees take on average 4.6 sick days per year, compared to 2.6 days for their low stress colleagues.

This same research revealed that of those experiencing high levels of stress, more than half reported disengagement – a drastically larger portion than those who had low stress levels.

Employers who push their employees too hard can also suffer reputational damage and higher staff turnover, which means increased recruitment and training costs.

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How to Alleviate Workplace Stress

The argument to reduce stress in your workplace is clear and there are several ways you can alleviate or prevent workplace stress. It’s not only in your employees’ interests, it’s in the best interest of the company as well.

The Health and Safety Executive in the UK listed six areas of work context pivotal to managing work-related stress, including:

  • Demands (managing workload and work environments)
  • Control (ensuring employees have a say in the way they work)
  • Support (offering encouragement, resources, etc.)
  • Relationships (promoting positive work practices)
  • Role (ensuring employees understand their role)
  • Change (effectively managing organisational change)

Moreover, research by Cotton and Hart found that supportive leadership and a top notch work team climate can help boost morale, which provides a buffer against the impact of work-related stress risk factors. Their organisational health model addresses four key drivers of employee wellbeing and productivity, including:

  1. Leadership and Management Behaviours (promoting supportive leadership)
  2. Work Team Climate (providing appraisal, professional development, role clarity, participative decision-making, and other feedback)
  3. Employee Emotions and Well-being (boosting morale and job satisfaction while minimising distress)
  4. Performance and Behavioural Outcomes (being on the lookout for withdrawal behaviours while addressing task and discretionary performance).

Considering these influences, below are some examples of best practices to help reduce stress in the workplace:

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Negotiate Job Descriptions

Writing an adequate job description in the beginning of a new employee’s career with you can prevent many of the causes of stress from rearing up in the future. It can help set expectations and give boundaries to an employee’s position.

The best thing a manager can do is to sit down with the employee to negotiate their job description, covering such areas as expectations and capabilities.

This process shows the employee that you have respect for them and understand the pressures of the job. Yet the job description can be renegotiated over time as the employee grows and develops in the position.

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Encourage Exercise

Exercise is a great stress reducer, working to increase energy, helping release frustration, and bringing calm to the office.

Exercise releases endorphins that can improve mood and sharpen the focus of your employees. People should be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, but working in an office environment can make this difficult.

It may seem like a difficult thing to implement, and we’re not saying you have to institute a policy of morning calisthenics, but encouraging exercise among employees has become a lot easier as technology has advanced.

Gifting your employees with activity trackers can help them track how much exercise they have had in a day, not to mention implementing targets can be fun and rewarding. A positive side effect is to promote better health and a greater sense of wellbeing.

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Praise and Reward Your Employees

Humans thrive on positive reinforcement. Considering many employees are most worried about job security, letting your employees know how great a job they’re doing can really go a long way.

Showing your appreciation for the work they do, and praising them when they perform well, will show your employees how much the company values them.

Recognition for their hard work will give them a sense of achievement, increasing their job satisfaction and their productivity.

This sort of positive reinforcement not only decreases stress levels in your employees, it helps to build loyalty. Building loyalty will help to minimise staff turnover.

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Stress Management Courses

Holding stress management seminars is a great way to lift morale and teach your employees important stress-reduction skills. There are many corporate training programs available to employers looking to combat the problem of workplace stress.

These programs can be tailored to your company. They will teach your employees techniques to stop stress from affecting their work, and skills to manage the issues that often cause them stress. A stress management course can increase employee resilience and improve their outlook.

Learn more about driving productivity and engagement in your workforce with some of our other articles, whitepapers, case studies, and more on the PageUp Resource Hub.


About The Author:
Alison Ritchie
Originally from Scotland, Alison is now based in Melbourne, Australia as a senior member of the Product Strategy team at PageUp.  With an Honours Degree in Optoelectronics & Laser Engineering, Alison’s diverse background spans the electronics industry to HR technology.  Alongside technology, Alison is also an experienced health & wellness specialist with a passion for well-being, and regularly writes and presents at workshops in the arena.