How to Help Your Employees Manage Workplace Stress

Life can be stressful. And work, even more so. If you google memes for “work stress” there’s no shortage of sardonic results. Stress and workplace burnout are everywhere.

In 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) identified workplace burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” and included it in its International Classification of Diseases. The organization defined burn-out as: “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” characterized by:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

That’s definitely not a desirable list. Everyday Health’s “United States of Stress” Special Report surveyed 6,700 Americans nationwide, ages 18 to 64, to find out what stresses us and how we cope. Just over a third of all respondents said their job or career is a regular source of stress. Among millennials and Gen Zers, the chronically work-stressed rises to 44 percent.

With jobs and careers front and center when it comes to stress, what can you do to help your employees manage workplace stress? There’s no magic potion, but there are some strategies to consider.

Does Your Culture Support Work-Life Balance?

Work-life balance is more than a catchphrase; it’s a necessity to keep employees content. Flexibility is often key to promoting that balance.

Here’s a great example. One of ConnectedHR’s clients has built flexibility and trust into its PTO program – by not having a defined PTO program at all. They call it DTO or Discretionary Time Off. Employees are given the latitude to take time as they need it. The program has been in place for a year and is going extremely well, with no one taking unfair advantage. Employees treasure the trust and in turn, are respectful and responsible when taking time off.

Now, not all companies or positions can offer flexible working arrangements. If you’re considering allowing employees to work remotely, read our previous blog about what to consider before taking the plunge.

Set Realistic Expectations

Workplace stress inevitably results when job roles are not clearly defined, or job responsibilities are not aligned well with an employee’s abilities.

The World Health Organization cites research findings showing that “the most stressful type of work is that which values excessive demands and pressures that are not matched to workers’ knowledge and abilities, where there is little opportunity to exercise any choice or control, and where there is little support from others.”

It may sound simple but make sure you have everyone in the right roles. This can begin by clearly defining roles and responsibilities before positions are filled.

Connect & Communicate                                                       

A good manager knows the limits of his or her employees and can recognize the signs of stress. The concept of emotional intelligence – the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others – comes into play here.

Open lines of communication between the manager/employee are important. Equally important is a genuine interpersonal connection. When you know your employees and have good relationships with them you can more easily see when an employee has reached a tipping point. Everyone can handle different levels of stress. Addressing those boundaries and communicating about them can go a long way to alleviating stress.

Underscoring the importance of communication is a 2019 State of Employee Communication and Engagement study conducted by Dynamic Signal which stated that 80 percent of the U.S. workforce reports feeling stressed because of ineffective company communication. That statistic is a 30 percent jump from just one year ago.

Focus on Health and Wellness

A solid total compensation package – including benefits – is a big part of alleviating an employee’s stress. Beyond the basics, many companies offer employee assistance programs. We’ve previously talked about employee assistance programs as being one of the biggest HR trends to watch in 2020.

While these can be a structured program, more informal wellness programs can be effective as well. Grass-roots wellness programs can be led by employees. For example, consider having an onsite wellness fair featuring healthy eating, weight management, fitness challenges, or whatever is of interest to employees.

A very casual approach to improving everyday wellness can be as simple as creating a space in the workplace for getting away from the desk. Things like a ping pong table in the break room or an outdoor picnic table can go a long way toward enhancing wellness and reducing stress. You may not want to go so far as the “Energy Pods” (nap pods) offered at Google ― but if you ask your employees, they’re sure to offer up some creative ideas.

There’s no sure-fire way to completely avoid stress; that’s just not realistic. But by paying attention to your employees and focusing on the areas mentioned above, you can significantly cut down on the stress they feel at and because of work. And that’s good for everyone.

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