According to an annual survey from the APA or American Psychological Association, 61 percent of individuals in the United States consider work one of the most common sources of stress. In fact, work ranked higher than violence and crime and the current political climate. Similar findings are reported in other studies as well: 25 percent of surveyed employees consider their work as the main stressor in their lives. In that same survey, it was found that 40 percent of employees consider their work to be “extremely” or “very” stressful.
These surveys make it clear that work-related stress affects many individuals in the United States. While some stress can be expected, when stress occurs in large amounts, both physical and mental health can be negatively affected. The employee’s success or failure in a job role can be determined by his/her ability to deal with work stress.
For those in management and leadership roles in business offices across the country, it is important to understand the magnitude of this problem. Not only do stressed employees perform poorly, but this can also be costly. How do you know if your employees are overstressed and what can you do to help reduce stress in the workplace?
Symptoms of Work-Related Stress
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress causes an alarm to go off in the brain. The brain then responds by preparing the body for defense. Our senses are sharpened from the release of hormones and the arousal of the nervous system, tensing the muscles, quickening the pulse, and deepening respiration. This “fight or flight” response is biological and regardless of where the stressful situation is the response is basically the same for everyone. When constantly stressed, this response is continually activated, leading to wear and tear on the bodily systems. This wear and tear ultimately leads to a weakened immune system and fatigue, which increases the risk of injury or disease.
The relationship between work-related stress and physical illness has been studied extensively. Some of the more common symptoms related to stress include:
- Upset stomach
- Sleep disturbances
- High blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
- Poor job performance
- Use of illicit drugs
- Increased use of alcohol
While these signs are easy to recognize, the effects that stress can have on chronic disease are not. The reason for this is these ailments can be caused by many different factors and develop over time. Some of the long-term negative effects of stress include:
- Workplace injury – Stressful workplace conditions can increase the risk of injury on the job due to an interference of safety practices.
- Musculoskeletal disorders – Risk of back and upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders are increased with stress.
- Cardiovascular disease – Risk of cardiovascular disease is increased for those who have little control over their work processes.
- Suicide, ulcers, immune function, cancer – Some research shows a relationship between these health conditions and workplace stress, however, much more research is needed to have a better understanding.
- Mental health issues – Mental health issues that can be due to job stress include burnout, anxiety, and depression.
Mental health issues can affect the business’s bottom line and cost these companies millions. This indirect cost comes in the way of reduced performance absenteeism. Stress is the reason 1 million individuals miss work every day. The best way to stop this problem from occurring is by businesses addressing the mental health of their employees.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Individuals in the workplace who are faced with mental disruptions, like stress, are more likely to use illicit drugs or alcohol as a way to reduce tension. In fact, in the Workplace Health Survey, it was reported that 63 percent of the respondents claim workplace stress significantly impacts both their mental and behavioral health. Increased substance use and high-stress levels result in high turnover rates, reduced employee engagement, and sub-optimal performance.
Solutions for Reducing Workplace Stress
Stressful working conditions have been associated with increased tardiness, absenteeism, presenteeism, and employees willing to quit their job. All of these have negative impacts on a business and its bottom line. Studies show healthy work environments not only benefit the employee but the bottom line as well. As a leader, it is your responsibility to ensure your employees are performing to the best of their abilities while maintaining an inviting, encouraging, and warm working environment.
Consider the following to reduce workplace stress:
The law entitles employees to at least a 20-minute break for every 6 hours worked. This law also entitles them to 11 hours between working days. In fact, the majority of individuals are most productive when they have 20-minute breaks following a 90-minute work spurt. When employees have many opportunities to decompress during their workday, they are less stressed and more productive.
Listen to Your Employees
Many employees are fearful of talking to their bosses. They do not want to create an impression that they are unable to handle their position. Nevertheless, to reduce stress and to ensure effective leadership, you must do more than just letting the employee know you practice an open-door policy. You need to follow through with it. What this means to you is listening with an open mind and helping them find solutions to workplace issues that are causing them stress. Be sure to focus discussions on solutions and not on complaints. When they learn that they can be upfront and honest, and you will listen carefully, stress will be less of a problem.
Consider Flexible Work Schedules
Stress is not always caused by work itself, but handling all of life’s responsibilities, such as household errands, spouses, and children on top of work. Even though flexible work schedules are not possible in all businesses, having some flexibility in where and when the employee works can be beneficial in reducing stress.
Promote Mental Health
Promoting mental health in the workplace through workshops is a great way to help reduce workplace stress. This allows employees to discuss what is bothering them and also educates them on the feelings they are having. You can also do holistic therapy workshops that employees can do at work or at home to help reduce stress.
Improve the Aesthetics
Aesthetics in the work environment can impact the stress level of the employees. For example, if your work environment has empty desks, empty walls and is extremely quiet, your employees may feel on edge. However, if your work environment has colorfully decorated walls, plants lining the desks, music playing softly in the background, your employees will feel warm and comfortable. Making these changes in aesthetics takes little time and effort and will make a huge difference in the stress level of your employees.