According to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job. This stress causes problems for both the employee and the employer. For example, 62 percent of workers experienced neck pain by the end of the day and 44 percent had stressed-out eyes. It’s been documented that stressed workers have lower productivity and increased absenteeism; 19 percent have quit a position because of stress.
For the sake of your employees and your company, think about how you can help employees reduce their work-related stress.
1. Set realistic job expectations
Many employees feel overworked and underpaid. In a quest to improve profitability, fewer workers are asked to do the work that more workers handled before. As a business owner, get real about what an employee should be expected to do, and be sure that compensation is commensurate with that work. My mentor has repeatedly told me to “do the best you can in the time you have.” Demanding perfection, from yourself or your staff, only increases stress.
Allow employees to have work-life balance by not requiring them to work after business hours. Refrain from communication with employees when their workday is done.
2. Encourage communication
Some experts suggest that employees should have a say in their work assignments as a way to lessen stress. Whether this is practical in your company depends on your situation.
If your company is undergoing change…a merger or sale, the retirement of an owner or key employee…it’s helpful to discuss matters with everyone rather than leave things to be whispered about. During the Great Recession, stress levels from impending layoffs skyrocketed. Explanations of actual layoffs would have alleviated the stress of some staff members rather than putting everyone through the uncertainty.
3. Make safety a priority
Unsafe and unhealthy working conditions can cause stress. Be sure your facilities comply with OSHA requirements. Consider obtaining a free OSHA on-site consultation to identify workplace hazards and obtain advice for compliance. This does not result in any penalties or citations but requires you to correct problems that are found to avoid adverse actions in the future.
Another workplace danger is, unfortunately, violence…domestic violence, violence from co-workers, or violence from outside sources (e.g., robberies). Stress (perhaps from personal issues outside the workplace) can cause violence; the threat of violence can cause stress. Determine what can be done to improve protection for employees, such as increased security for access to your premises, security systems with cameras, and information that employees can use to deal with domestic violence. Review the DOL’s Workplace Violence Program, which includes early warning signs and emergency responses, to make policy changes in your business.
4. Create a stress-free environment
Naturally, there’s only so much an employer can do to set up a workplace that’s stress-free. But there are things that can be done to help.
- Provide training to employees on time management. Prioritizing tasks can keep employees from feeling overwhelmed, thereby avoiding or minimizing stress. For example. The American Management Association offers various time management seminars that may be of interest to you.
- Add plants. A recent study in Japan found that there was a significant decrease in the stress of employees with small plants on their desks. Pulse rates were lower after they took a 3-minute break to care for their plants when they felt fatigued. Even just looking at their plants was beneficial.
5. Review your health policies and practices
Encouraging healthy eating and exercise can go a long way in helping employees keep down their stress levels. It’s easy enough for you to offer healthy snacks in the break room and allow sufficient lunch periods for employees to get some exercise in.
Despite your best efforts, employees can still experience stress. Again, stress may be totally not job-related. Unfortunately, stress can lead to physical illness or conditions that require medical attention. Symptoms of stress include anxiety, problems sleeping, fatigue, muscle tension, stomach problems, and coping with alcohol or drugs. And stress can trigger violence, as discussed above. Be sure that employees know they can see a mental health professional when needed.
Football coach Lou Holtz once said: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
Employers have an obligation to see that their staff has ways to deal with stress.
Barbara Weltman is the founder of Big Ideas for Small Business, Inc., which publishes Idea of the Day. She is the author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2020 and other books that inform the small business community of tax, financial, and legal information they should know about.