Stress in the workplace can have serious physical and mental effects on people.
For an organization, this can mean physical injuries and the costs of that, along with low morale and disengaged workers, a slow down of projects, wasted time, and other costs.
Not to mention, stress affects the wellbeing of the people you employ and work with on a daily basis.
If that’s not enough to start looking at signs of stress in your company, consider that hundreds of millions of dollars are paid out in compensation every year due to stress-related issues.
It’s estimated that stress is costing up to $300 billion to American industry annually.
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Effects of stress in the workplace
It’s worth paying attention to signs of stress in the workplace, as the effects can be far-reaching, and no department or company is immune to them.
From warehouses to boardrooms, from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, stress can arise and influence the performance of your company.
Stress in the workplace causes lost productivity, reduced employee retention, injuries, mental health issues — the list goes on and on.
Examples of stress-induced behavior in the workplace include aggression towards others, mood swings and irritability, rudeness towards customers, lower tolerance for frustration, and impatience.
It’s easy to see how all of these contribute to lower morale and an increase in arguments, and how stressed out workers pass the stress onto others.
Workplace stressors and common causes of stress at work
To combat the outcomes listed above, organizations have developed strategies designed for stress management in the workplace.
Before a company can address stress-related issues, or a person can start coping with stress at work, it’s important to actually look at the causes of workplace stress.
1. Fear-based stress
Lack of job security or direct feedback from managers leads to employees feeling insecure or unsure in their roles.
Their futures can feel unpredictable, and all of the unknowns can cause enormous stress.
If employees have no way of addressing these fears with the company, they are likely to start applying and looking for backup options to address this fear. Or, they’ll go further down into the stress spiral.
Fear-based workplace stress can also be caused by unknown or unclarified expectations and vague reviews. Any type of unknowns will cause the employee to feel low job security, which leads to fear and thus, stress.
2. Overwork and burnout
There are many reasons why a person might be overworked, from a company being short staffed to demanding management to unhealthy work-life balance. Nonetheless, overwork or an overwhelming workload leads to burnout.
Burnout happens when a person is exhausted from work and feels like performance is dropping. This results in projects slowing down, and attitudes becoming cynical and negative.
The essence of workplace burnout comes down to being emotionally overwhelmed by a lack of positive input on all the work done. Simplifying teamwork processes so employees can do their best work together is a key way to combat this common type of stress.
When employees start to feel as if their work is not good enough, or that they’re inadequate, incompetent, or unappreciated, they start to see no point in their work and become burned out.
3. Deadlines and other time constraints
Deadlines were invented for a reason, and the stress they cause is not always bad. But sometimes, employees feel like they’re always catching up, always chasing the deadline, or switching focus to any other tasks that come up.
This ends up causing the employee to feel under pressure, with no time for reflection or focusing on important tasks that might require clarity.
Lack of reasonable deadlines can result in employees working overtime, which can lead to burnout. Or worse, can result in employees fearing for their job if they are not performing as well as they used to.
4. Poor relationships with other team members
Conflict with other colleagues is almost certainly going to happen from time to time in any organization.
If this occurs on an ongoing basis, employees end up feeling extremely stressed out. They may start looking for what conflict or argument might arise next, or who the employee might run into in the office building.
It goes without saying that any bullying or harassment in the office shouldn’t be tolerated. If for no other reason (though there are plenty), it should be addressed because it increases the odds of poor co-worker relationships and increases stress levels enormously.
5. Lack of resources or skills
When employees are given the wrong roles, or even worse, roles that the company has not assigned appropriate resources for, employees naturally get stressed.
For skills, this goes both ways — not being given enough challenging work and being given work that’s way over someone’s skill level.
It’s easy to see how both cause stress. Not enough responsibility leads to a lack of job security and autonomy and can result in that person feeling underqualified or not trusted.
Lack of resources for a task to be completed causes isolation in the employees.
Projects are assigned not based on what’s actually possible, but rather without any insights into the workload. This adds extremely high expectations of the employee to the point of frustration. The employee is left with having to chase unrealistic goals and feeling extremely isolated in doing so.
6. Mismatch in personality and company culture
In the modern workplace, it can be common for some companies to embrace vagueness and unpredictability, especially in startups. Other companies are well-established and have procedures and systems in place.
It’s similar with people: Some thrive in structured environments, while others can take a lot of vagueness and make sense of it to the benefit of their work and the company. When there’s a clash of personal work style and the company’s culture, it can cause enormous stress that’s extremely hard to fix.
When it comes to culture, sometimes the industry it’s in or the technology it uses will simply add stress by default. Such is the case with technostress, a subcategory of stress that has evolved from the tools modern companies use or reliance on technology to complete a task.
How employers can reduce stress in the workplace
Due to the serious impact stress can have on a company, workplace stress management should be on the top of every manager’s priority list.
Understanding the impact stress has and what it does to people, companies, and economies is a good starting point in adopting a low-stress culture.
Here are some stress management strategies in the workplace you can start implementing right away. These will help you to better manage stress at work and have a happier workforce.
1. Nurture team relationships
Good relationships help people disclose and share some of the concerns, emotions, and stress on their mind.
The simple act of telling someone else about such issues relieves some of the stress. Not to mention the fact that the other person might be able to provide valuable insight, which can result in solving the issues.
Many companies utilize a “buddy” structure — giving each new hire a person to talk to about any issues, share any insights on the company and the people in it, engage in some positive gossip and similar. It’s designed to create a friendly and welcoming environment where people can feel comfortable and contribute.
Some of the top companies embrace this as an onboarding best practice.
Apart from a buddy system, another good tip for managing stress at work is to have regular, out-of-the-office team-building evenings or events. These are designed to be casual and relaxed. Even remote teams can engage in such team building.
2. Incorporate speaking about stress in your team reviews
If your company engages in team reviews or general chats about how work is going between a manager and direct report, it’s a good idea to discuss any stressors, workloads, and responsibilities in these conversations.
This serves two purposes:
- The employee feels heard and has the opportunity to discuss issues that might be causing stress to a direct manager.
- The manager has a chance to better understand what causes stress to team members and can assign projects to them accordingly in the future.
3. Offer flexibility
Offering flexibility in the workplace gives people a chance to address some of their stress points, especially personal ones.
Some employees might be worried about picking up the kids from school or completing other errands. Offering flexibility when it comes to start times or working from home gives them room to address these things and dedicate more focus to their work.
Flexibility also provides people the chance to engage in any healthy habits that they might have built over the years to cope with everyday life.
Some people like to do yoga or meditate during the workday, others go for a run or take breaks to gain clarity and feel refreshed. All of these are healthy habits and nearly everyone in a highly dynamic workplace will have already developed some — so just give them the room to do them.
4. Manage your business from the highest level to reduce everyone’s stress
When you attack your business from the top down, you’re not getting bogged down with all of the details, which can derail your productivity.
Look at your business from a 500-foot view when you manage your priorities and projects. You can follow this rule when you list priority items in your project management apps like Hubstaff Tasks.
As you clearly define your business needs and goals, your team will understand what you want to do.
Spell out any requirements (members, processes, details). Don’t worry about getting too complicated just yet. The important thing is to get a basic plan down that you can enhance later.
Finally, creating wireframes can help your team understand your requirements and expectations.
5. Have a great time and project management tool in place
Good project management will do wonders for your team’s stress levels.
There are some basic steps you can follow to avoid stress caused by projects. It’s always a good idea to manage the project first, the person second.
If you follow this advice, you’ll operate your business on results, not on the volume of work or tasks completed. This relieves employees of trying to rush through tasks without completing them at a high standard.
This is easy to implement. Just use any feature-rich project management tool, and divide projects among your team members without overwhelming any one person.
Following up frequently within your project management system can reduce stress. This way, you’ll know that you have somewhere to document and record everything that’s going on in your business — in your way and on your own time.
It also keeps the backlog of too many projects from getting in the way of your progress and allows for a collaborative work environment.
Before this, you should define roles and responsibilities so that each team member understands why a task or project is assigned to them. This reduces the risk of confusion or hot potato projects.
Tools such as time tracking are designed to help address the issue of assigning the right amount of work to team members, as the data reveals how long tasks take and how much a person has on their plate.
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At the end (or beginning) of each day, briefly review what your team accomplished. You can also look at weekly reports, which you can set to automatically email you, from an employee or project level. Compare this activity with your deadlines to manage employees and ensure that things are on track to meet your goals.
Using the right tracking software will also help you relieve stress as it gives you more insight into how your team works. It can help you understand if your employees have the right resources and the necessary tools to complete their projects and tasks.
Keeping this in mind will force you to prioritize your tasks and manage them better. This step of managing your business should take no more than five minutes per day but will keep your projects highly organized.
6. Resist perfection
Perfection makes people overthink, enter analysis-paralysis, and pressure themselves beyond a helpful point.
If you manage a team, it’s important to emphasize your expectations of quality to your reportees.
Let them know if occasionally a project does require a bit of pressure, and putting the absolute best foot forward. Avoid unrealistic expectations and make sure they understand you don’t expect 100% flawless execution every time.
As an employee looking to reduce workplace stress, understand that for the most part, perfection leads to setting unrealistic goals that you are almost certain to fall short of.
Instead, set realistic goals and prioritize your efforts well so as not to feel overwhelmed with a never-ending chase towards perfection.
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7. Consider weekly stress-reducing activities
Many companies have a yoga instructor come in once a week or a massage therapist every other Friday. This helps not just during the activity, but as employees look forward to these weekly activities.
Some companies go a step further and develop special programs around encouraging stress-reducing activities on their own.
Intuit, an accounting software company with 8,200 employees, lets its staff write off any meditation and mindfulness classes as reimbursable expenses. Another software company, Asana, has even invested in nap rooms, which are specially designed for relaxing and de-stressing. That, on top of access to a free gym and yoga classes.
Read about strategies for a healthy work-life balance.
8. Open door policy
Bad communication is the most likely cause of any human conflict.
Having an open door policy helps employees access anyone in the company to discuss any blockers and stressors. You can reinforce this policy by using dependable communication tools, which can be especially helpful for teams in different locations.
An open door is not just a management tool. This directly helps to reduce stress at work as employees can feel that support is available at any point for them. Employees can utilize this not only for clarifying project specifications, but also for addressing other issues that might be stressing them out.
9. Healthy snacks and other perks
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, Asana also has multiple chefs, preparing organic meals any time of the day.
Some companies provide a shuttle service to the office every day so morning commutes aren’t part of their daily stress. Or, they offer flexible hours around the holidays to reduce stress. It’s not unheard of to have a company provide daycare for employees’ kids.
The point of all of these perks is to make life easier for the employees so that their mind is not worried about everyday issues.
Instead, they can focus on the work, get more done, and stress less.
While a lot of perks like these are not accessible to smaller companies or startups, managers can still adopt an attitude of trying to make life easier for anyone who works in the company. Small things such as a free taxi ride home if someone is working longer hours can make a difference in employee stress levels.
10. Bonus – Reducing remote stress [Webinar]
The founders of Hubstaff have prepared a webinar focused on reducing the stress specific to remote work.
This was an informal webinar and Q&A session on how they implemented tools and processes that make it easier to manage teams internally by focusing on the daily workflow of tasks.
If you’ve ever wondered how to manage a remote team workflow, this webinar is for you. Interested in a more detailed overview? We have an ebook on how to manage a remote team that’s written by Dave Nevogt.
Replay of the Live Webinar
Download the Slides
Don’t let workplace stress get the best of you
Managing a teams doesn’t have to be a daunting process. Nor does it have to lead to stressed out employees.
If you set up your system and projects in an organized fashion, set clear expectations, document projects appropriately, and give your employees the right tools to succeed, you’ll achieve the results you’re seeking.
This post was originally published December 17, 2014, and updated May 2019.