Stress is a natural or expected part of daily life, and life in the workplace is no exception. In fact, 46% of Americans claim that workload is a leading source of stress. An additional 6% claimed job security was their leading stressor, and 20% said juggling work and personal lives juggling work and personal lives was the most stressful. Furthermore, “being fired at work” is the 8th most stressful life event according to the Holmes-Rahe Life Events Scale from the American Institute of Stress.
While too much stress may cause various mental and health problems for employees, it can also raise issues for employers by impacting the overall vitality and productivity of the workforce. One study from Fairleigh Dickinson University estimates that workplace stress costs American employers as much as $200 billion annually in lost productivity, staff turnover, absenteeism, medical insurance costs, and other health-related issues.
Stress can be problematic for both parties involved. Managing work stress as an employer is an extremely important task. After all, no company wants to handicap its operation simply due to stressed-out employees. In order to find solutions, companies need to understand stress and how it impacts their employees’ daily lives, health, and productivity. Here’s a closer look at stress in the workplace.
Understanding the Causes of Work Stress
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “work stress” is the response that a person may have when he or she cannot handle a challenging work-related demand. For example, if an employee is given an assignment to complete five reports in a time period when he or she knows the typical output is three reports in that time frame, then this could be categorized as a workplace stressor.
Work stress can occur in any number of situations, so it isn’t just limited to productivity demands. According to Health Advocate, job security, low salary, and lack of advancement opportunity are top contributors to workplace stress. Stress is often generated when relations between supervisors and employees are poor, pointing towards organization and management as root causes – which is also backed up by the WHO report mentioned earlier.
A poor organizational work culture is characterized by deficient leadership, poor communication, and unsupportive supervision. Employees who have unsupervised, under-stimulating tasks tend to experience more stress than those with more engaging and rewarding work. Employers who set unreasonable work hours or establish poor working conditions may also create stress for their employees (for example, unpredictable shifts or inflexible schedules).
Of course, work stress may be a result of issues beyond the job. Employees have stressful lives outside of work that may impact their professional lives and productivity. For example, substantial debt or an unexpected medical bill could create stress that bleeds over into the workplace, especially if an employee is concerned with low pay or inconsistent hours. Family problems or relationship issues can create stress as employees struggle to achieve a proper work-life balance.
The Impact of Workplace Stress
There are plenty of causes for workplace stress brought on by both employees and employers. Both can also be impacted significantly by high stress.
As mentioned earlier, American companies see $200 billion in losses from problems that can be associated with high stress (though not necessarily a direct connection). According to the WHO report, work stress is believed to cause higher rates of absenteeism, lower commitment to work, decreased productivity, unsafe work practices, greater turnover, impaired recruitment ability, and increased legal liability from workers to name a few. Companies also run the risk of damaging their overall image by promoting high-stress environments.
For the individual employees, too much stress is associated with poor physical and mental health and contributes to serious conditions such as chronic headaches, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure. All these conditions may potentially lead to great medical costs in some form. Furthermore, many of those health problems can feed back into the workplace, creating more issues. For example, stressed employees are more likely to engage in unsafe work practices, leading to higher accident rates.
Is There a Solution to Work Stress?
It’s obvious that too much stress is problematic for productivity, individual safety, company revenue, individual health, workplace satisfaction, and more. With that in mind, many employers may benefit from exploring ways to reduce stress at work. There are many causes to stress, but there are also as many possible solutions – if not more.
The first step should be performing an evaluation of the organization’s current stress levels. Sending out a quick employee survey could be one place to start. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), companies can also examine absenteeism rates, performance and productivity, turnover rates, rate of illness among employees, salary levels, and more. Analyzing this data can help pinpoint certain stress-related problems at work.
Businesses may want to consider offering work-life balance perks. This may include flex time, job sharing, working from home, or longer lunch hours. Additionally, they may provide wellness initiatives for their employees. Installing an on-site fitness facility, offering gym membership discounts, or providing healthy snacks in the office may help.
Offering more traditional benefits can make an employee’s life easier as well. Employees struggling with student debt would easily appreciate a student loan repayment benefit. Providing access to healthcare and connecting employees to health insurance companies is one of the most common examples of workplace benefits. Furthermore, access to a company-sponsored retirement account is another great way to give employees more.
Every company wants to avoid the problems stemming from strung-out employees and a disheveled workforce. But, how do they do it? Managing workplace stress is a difficult task to say the least. After all, companies, their workplaces, and their employees all vary considerably (which is an understatement). A perfect solution for one company may work terribly for another. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions to consider, and many of them can help improve an employee’s work-life balance and productivity.
By Andrew from LendEDU–a consumer education website that helps businesses and consumers with their finances.