Stress in Your Workplace: Be Aware, Keep It Low
Everyone knows stress is dangerous, not only to individuals, but to the businesses they work for. No one can fully estimate the economic damage caused by workplace stress. But we know stress adversely affects decision making skills and there’s no question it adds to absenteeism, for both medical and psychological causes. There’s no way to eliminate all stress from work, of course. But it’s up to managers to keep stress to a minimum—or face the consequences.
Job Conditions That May Lead to Stress
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “job stress results when the demands of the job exceed the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.” NIOSH cites the main causes of stress to workers as:
The Design of Tasks. Heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long work hours and shift work; hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not utilize workers' skills, and provide little sense of control.
Example: David works to the point of exhaustion. Theresa is tied to the computer, allowing little room for flexibility, self-initiative, or rest.
What you can do: Make sure employees take breaks. Monitor workloads. Be sensitive to the warning signs of overwork, such as difficulty concentrating, lower productivity/time worked, short temper, or low morale. Make sure your managers do the same.
Management Style. Lack of participation by workers in decision-making, poor communication in the organization, lack of family-friendly policies.
Example: Theresa needs to get the boss's approval for everything, and the company is insensitive to her family needs.
What you can do: Whenever possible, include workers in decision-making. Make sure employees understand WHY decisions were made. Be flexible about your employee’s family time, whenever possible.
Interpersonal Relationships. Poor social environment and lack of support or help from coworkers and supervisors.
Example: Theresa's physical isolation reduces her opportunities to interact with other workers or receive help from them.
What you can do: Assign team projects. Encourage interaction, maybe even outside the office. Be sensitive to workers who seem isolated.
Work Roles. Conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility, too many "hats to wear."
Example: Theresa is often caught in a difficult situation trying to satisfy both the customer's needs and the company's expectations.
What you can do: Make sure that authority goes along with responsibility. Give employees the freedom to make decisions within their fields of responsibility. Be sensitive to frustration.
Career Concerns. Job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth, advancement, or promotion; rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.
Example: Since the reorganization at David's plant, everyone is worried about his or her future with the company and what will happen next.
What you can do: Be as transparent with employees as possible. No one knows what will happen in the future, but you can tell employees as much as can be known.
Environmental Conditions. Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.
Example: David is exposed to constant noise at work.
What you can do: Assess your work environment and take action to correct any unpleasant or dangerous conditions as soon as possible.
The Early Warnings of Stress
No matter how much you try to alleviate it, your employees will still feel occasional stress. Here are the warning signs to look for:
- Sleep Disturbances
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Short Temper
- Upset Stomach
- Job Dissatisfaction
- Low Morale
When you see one or more of the warning signs, don’t let the situation fester. Speak to your employees. Find out what’s up. You’ll find your employees will appreciate it and you’ll be further rewarded with greater productivity.