Workplace Stress: How Employers Can Reduce Stress at Work

by Sarah Niderost, 9 minutes read
HOME blog workplace stress how employers can reduce stress at work

The workplace should be a zone where employees feel comfortable and free to perform their roles. But the sad truth is that many Americans find it to be the complete opposite. And this is especially true among low-income workers.

According to a Gallup report, 70% of Americans in the poorest 20% of the population admit to feeling stressed daily. Among the richest 20% of the population, only 40% feel stressed.

Why is this an issue?

When you have a workforce that's stressed and dissatisfied in their roles, it'll only harm your company. And if left unchecked, it can hurt productivity rates, which reduces sales and revenue.

So what do you do as an employer to turn things around? Continue reading to learn what workplace stress is, how to identify it, and how to resolve it.

What is workplace stress?

what is workplace stress

According to the CDC, job stress is the harmful physical and emotional responses that happen when a role's requirements don't match the worker's capabilities, needs, or resources.

When your workers are forced to operate under these conditions, it doesn't only hurt your business: it can lead to poor health and possibly even injury.

Let's review how you can identify the signs of work-related stress and prevent both.

What are the signs of stress in the workplace?

The first step to eradicating workplace stress is to learn how to identify it. By understanding the signs to look for, you'll know which workers are unhappy. This will give you the advantage of spotting trends before they plague your organization.

What are the effects of stress on employees?

Now, there are physical and non-physical signs of stress. Some you may not notice just by looking at a worker. For example, they may have:

  • Chest pain

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Muscle tension

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sleeping problems

  • Excessive sweating

  • Fast, shallow breathing

  • Addiction (drugs or alcohol)

Behind the scenes, your stressed employees may also be dealing with marital issues. Studies show when job satisfaction declines, it leads to marital dissatisfaction. So workplace stress can potentially lead to family stress.

But how does this translate to what happens in the workplace? As a leader, you have to be able to spot problems with your employees. Because a lot of the time, they won't come right out and tell you.

So keep a watch out for things like:

  • Frustration

  • Irritation

  • Unhappiness

  • Negativity

  • Over-worrying

  • Lack of confidence

  • Indecisiveness

You'll notice this more if you work closely with your employees. If not, then have your team leaders pay attention to these shifts in behavior and moods.

For instance, they may see team members:

  • Turning in work late

  • Having shoddy work or performance

  • Complaining about their duties

  • Lacking engagement

  • Being on edge and irritable when discussing projects

  • Falling asleep at the desk (due to poor sleep at home)

  • Coming into work drunk or high (or even drinking on the job)

So what leads to a stressed-out workforce? Let's review some of the factors.

What causes workplace stress?

causes of stress at work

Many factors can cause employees to become stressed. So you may have to dig deeper to find the culprit.

  • Here's a look at the most common work stressors:

  • Job insecurity (either fear of being laid off or lack of opportunity for growth)

  • Excessive overtime wearing them down

  • Pressure to work top-level at all times

  • Demand for high-performance increases (but job satisfaction doesn't)

  • No control over job performance (i.e. how and when they do tasks)

  • Management style is poor (i.e. lack of communication, poor decision-making, no family-friendly policies)

  • Wearing too many hats (even those outside of their job description)

  • Environmental conditions are unfavorable (crowded workspaces, air pollution, ergonomic issues, too much noise, health concerns like COVID)

  • Poor scheduling of shiftwork (infrequent breaks, long work hours, hectic routine tasks with little to no purpose)

  • Not using their skills to perform duties

When you look at recent reports, you'll find numbers back some of these claims. For instance, the most common cause of workplace stress in the U.K. is workload (44%). Other factors include lack of support (14%) and changes at work (8%).

In America, 60% of adults say money and work are significant sources of stress. And there's also a leadership issue — 33% say their boss thinks they should prioritize work over family life. Then another 33% say their employer thinks workers should be available 24-hours a day.

In 2020, we still saw similar work-related stresses. This includes low salaries, unrealistic job expectations, no opportunity for growth, and extensive hours and workload.

How can work-related stress impact your company?

workplace stress impact

Ignoring the state of the mental and physical well-being of your workers never leads to a happy ending. You have 80% of American workers saying there's at least one thing at work that stresses them out.

So odds are, you may have more than a few stressed workers. Unfortunately, only 41% of employed adults say their employers provide resources to assist with mental health. And 35% say they receive sufficient resources from work to manage stress.

If you're not one of the companies offering help to reduce work stress, it can lead to financial and functional problems.

For instance, job performance may decrease because engagement reduces. Who can blame them? How can employees perform when they spend five hours a day thinking about their stressors? This leads to more irritability, which can cause tense communication with coworkers. Altogether, this will hurt productivity levels for the stressed individual and those around them.

Studies support this — 41% of stressed workers say they're less productive, 33% are less engaged, and 15% admit to searching for other work opportunities.

As you'd imagine, work stress also contributes to excessive employee absences. Roughly 12.8 million working days are lost annually because of anxiety, stress, and depression caused by work.

So not only are your stressed workers not performing well (or showing up), but they're looking for a new employer. The financial impact of this is high — you'll potentially lose revenue due to disengagement and poor productivity. And you'll have to dish out money to recruit and train new hires (who may or may not stick around).

The pandemic's impact on a stressed workforce

Let's not ignore the rollercoaster ride workers are strapped to (a.k.a. COVID-19). How has the pandemic impacted workers' stress levels?

Well, in the U.K., 65% feel more stressed since COVID restrictions started. Another 53% feel more anxious than usual, and 44% are more depressed than normal. Some of the leading causes are uncertainty, disconnection, and loss of control.

Full-time employees especially witnessed increased stress levels, particularly among front-line workers.

In America, 70% of employees said the pandemic was the most stressful time of their professional careers. It's led to an increase in prescription use for anxiety, depression, and insomnia. A little over 41% of adults have symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder. And 36% have trouble sleeping.

Roughly 62% stated losing an hour daily in productivity, and 32% lost two hours a day because of pandemic-related stress.

The question now is:

How do you make improvements to reduce stress in the workplace for everyone?

What are the best solutions to workplace stress and burnout?

There's nothing you can do about outside stressors impacting your workers. However, you can take measures to improve the workplace, so you don't add to their anxiety.

Here are some of the strategies you can use to reduce workplace stress.

Offer free screenings for mental health issues

solutions to workplace stress

It's not always clear when an employee is dealing with workplace anxiety and stress. So by employing regular free screenings for mental health issues, you can identify struggling workers. Once you find them, look for the root cause and how you can alleviate the strain.

Increase awareness about mental health

Educating your workers about mental health will help them identify problems within themselves that they’ve been struggling with but couldn’t articulate. It's possible to go through life anxious and stressed without pinpointing the issue (or how to cope).

Provide lifestyle coaching

Some folks don't know how to deal with anxiety, stress, and depression.

So they'll sometimes feed into the problem, making it worse. With lifestyle coaching, you can counter bad habits and teach better lifestyle choices.

Create dedicated quiet spaces for meditation

An overly busy workplace is one of the factors that tarnish the work experience. If it's too loud and frantic, then it can hurt concentration. And this will only make it frustrating to complete tasks on time. By having dedicated quiet areas, you're giving workers a place to think.

Teach employees about stress management via workshops

Another way to educate your employees about coping with stress is to host workshops. Make them free and during work hours to ensure employees show up. Hire a stress expert who can offer actionable tips to deal with work-related and environmental stressors.

Give employees additional paid time off

Overworking leads to burning out. And when you have a burnt-out workforce, you'll have reduced productivity and more absences. So think ahead by giving your workers more paid days off. This will deter them from calling in sick to get more rest (or to handle family matters).

Increase employee wages sustainably

Go over the pay wages in your organization. When's the last time you increased the starting pay? And more importantly, how frequently do you offer raises? Consider increasing both the rate and frequency of raises to ensure livable wages (amid inflation).

Ensure career growth with ongoing training and internal recruiting

Training current employees is one of the best investments a company can make. It positions your workers to take on bigger and better roles in your organization. It's a win-win scenario where your employees can move up the corporate ladder. And it allows you to develop the leaders you need.

Survey employees to learn their stressors (every industry is unique)

It's not always clear what problems an employee is having. So why not ask them about it? Checking in on your workers shows you care. And it allows them to share concerns they're having in the workplace and at home.

You may find a trend among workers, which will signal a need for change.

Train managers to become better leaders

reduce workplace stress

Don't overlook your management teams. One of the stressors employees complain about is poor managers. Make sure your leaders maintain open communication, give positive feedback, and promote healthy relationships with employees.

Also, make it so workers can vote on the quality of your leadership to ensure managers are kept in check.

Prioritize work-life balance

A worker should never have to choose between work and family. Create family-friendly policies that make it possible to prioritize loved ones when needed. For instance, allow both maternity and paternity leave to workers (at least six weeks).

Also, empower workers to take additional personal time off to deal with family matters. Employees shouldn't have to tell you why they need time off either. Respect their privacy to show you trust them. And it'll prevent workers from feeling too intimidated to ask for a much-needed day off.

Consider having flexible schedules

Being overworked is one of the leading complaints stressed employees have. Sure, certain roles are more demanding than others and may require overtime here and there. But you want to ensure you're not overdoing it. And you want to grant workers the opportunity to choose work hours and days.

It's also a good idea to consider remote work for positions that don't require being on-site. The more flexibility you offer, the more in control your workers will feel. In turn, they may perform better and engage more.

Turn your workplace into a healthy, stress-free zone

The role of an employer is to ensure the safety of its workforce. This includes their physical and mental well-being. With the above tips, you can create a work culture that revolves around maintaining a healthy and safe workplace.

If you believe offering flexible schedules will improve your work environment. download the Employer's Guide to Workplace Wellnesstoday.

Related Articles

employee running or walking