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Table of Contents

Take care of your people and protect your business

You are frustrated and angry, and anxiety has settled its thorny grip on you. You want to scream, cry, run, hide, run back and scream more. Stress can be our toughest adversary, and knowing how to manage it is mission-critical for your health. As an HR leader, it’s also about the health of your employees. Let’s take a deeper dive into stress management.

What Is Stress Management?

Stress comes in many forms from many sources: relationships, job, finances, and health, just to name a few. Stress management means you have the tools to prevent tension from taking a destructive grip on you. While a certain amount of stress will always be a part of our daily lives, it’s important to be able to prevent negative, long-term impacts on your happiness, health, and productivity. In short, stress management is essential for you to be your best self.

Why Is Stress Management Important in the Workplace?

According to a study by the CDC, 40% of American workers believe they have a job that is “very or extremely stressful.” While a certain amount of pressure can be motivating, stressed-out employees hurt everyone in the workplace. Not only does their productivity suffer, but they often become a distraction for other employees, who may observe the distress of their stressed coworker, want to divert their energy from working to helping, or perhaps even get sucked into the stress vortex themselves, like an infectious disease. Stress overload can completely disrupt a workplace and create a toxic culture. Employee wellness has a direct correlation to engagement, and engagement has a direct correlation to productivity.

The Benefits of Stress Management

A good stress management approach saves your company money and energy.

  • Employee engagement. Keeping stress under control enables employees to find meaning in their work, which allows them the opportunity to perform at their peak.
  • Reduced turnover. Employees who feel heard, safe, and connected to meaningful work will likely stay. If the workplace becomes toxic or unbearable, they will likely quit. A study from Limeade.com stated that almost 40 percent of employees participating in the study cited stress as the primary reason for resigning from a job.
  • Increased productivity. Employees are at their best when stress levels are managed.  They can focus their energy on the work rather than trying to control their emotions.  When workplace stress becomes chronic, it’s labeled as occupational stress and can be debilitating.
  • Fewer accidents. When you are under stress, you are less apt to be careful, follow safety practices, and stay focused. This is how accidents can happen. Additionally, stress may be (mis)managed through alcohol and/or drugs, which in turn can cause workplace accidents.

Common Causes of Stress in the Workplace

There are potential stress triggers everywhere in the workplace. Common causes include how your boss treats you, how your team treats you, what you are expected to produce, and the environment in which your work gets done. Let’s look at them individually.

Interpersonal Conflict

Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. That’s been a very popular statement for decades because it has been proven true over and over again. Unresolved conflict with supervisors, teammates, or other employees can cause frustration, anger, and ultimately anxiety, which all lead to occupational stress. Ideally, conflict resolution should be covered in the employee handbook. Your company needs both formal and informal processes that help employees resolve conflict.

Disorganization

It is easy to be stressed when you are overwhelmed: that feeling of not knowing where to start when it seems like there are dozens of deliverables you are facing. When companies don’t have clearly define jobs or when supervisors fail to give clear and consistent direction, including priorities, employees can feel disorganized and stressed.

Multi-Tasking

At one point, we thought multitasking was the best way to get more work done in a day. Then people realized that speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) suffered by multitasking. There is a certain point where concentrating on numerous things simultaneously doesn’t work well for most people. Instead, it leads to fractured focus and more stress.

Physical Discomfort

The workplace’s physical environment can cause stress. Examples include having to walk through a parking lot that is dark or in an unsafe area in order to get to and from your work or working in a building with extreme climate conditions (freezing cold in the winter, sweltering heat in the summer). Employers should provide basic physical comfort for all employees; preventing stress adds to the success of the company.

Personal workspace conditions also play a role in your employees’ comfort, including adequate lighting, ventilation, access to a restroom, and a reasonable amount of personal space. An effective countermeasure is for employers to provide an ergonomic assessment for employees as a part of their wellness strategy. These assessments are often free and available through your benefits provider.

How to Create a Stress-Free Workplace

If you’ve been noticing signs of stress in the people at your company, don’t worry! Here are a few things you can do to help create an atmosphere where everybody feels comfortable and gets the most out of their work experience.

Step 1: Managers, Talk to Your People

A big contributor to employee stress is a weak or negative relationship with management. Building and strengthening this relationship starts with managers. If you’re a manager, be humble enough to understand what employees are dealing with, then help them with it.

By proving to your people that you’re not just a manager, but a caring leader who has their back, they’ll feel safer, their stress levels will drop, and they’ll be more productive. You’ll also be able to identify other stressors in the workplace that you can get rid of.

Step 2: Create a Safe Environment

One of the biggest fears in the workplace is getting fired. Everyone makes mistakes, but if a mistake could put you next in line for the chopping block, that fear becomes debilitating. Ironically, if the fear of job loss is in your company, employees will be too worried about keeping their job to actually do it well. 

Business is inherently risky. There are endless external factors that make the business world a dangerous place. Every employee doing their job well is what keeps a company safe, but they can’t do that with the fear of failure constantly overhead.

Make it safe to fail at your company. Failure is the birthplace of growth, so trying new things should be fiercely encouraged. If you can remove the stress that comes from the fear of being fired, you make room for innovation.

Step 3: Help With Work/Life Balance

Everyone hopes for a satisfying work life and a happy home life. A key to achieving that is a good balance between the two. No matter how good your work and home life are individually, conflict between them can make both miserable.

You can boost office morale and employee productivity by helping employees keep that balance. Here are a few ways to do that.

  • Have a “just go” policy. If your family needs you, just go.
  • Invite families to work activities. 
  • Set an example of working efficiently during the day, then going home.
  • Offer PTO and encourage its use.
  • Leave time off and weekends alone.

Step 4: Check Your Expectations

Stress comes when there’s dissonance between expectations or requirements and resources or ability. With that in mind, it’s obvious that to reduce stress you can either provide more resources or check your expectations.

This doesn’t mean that you have low expectations for your employees. Expectations should be high. But while stretching expectations helps your people innovate, there is always a breaking point.

Evaluate your employee expectations and see if they’re reasonable, then adjust them if you need to. By finding that sweet spot of stretching but possible expectations, you’ll maximize your employees’ potential without having to deal with stress or burnout.

Step 6: Give Employees a Voice

Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” You go to great lengths to hire awesome employees; don’t rob yourself of their value by not being open to their thoughts and ideas. 

Along that same vein, the book “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin emphasizes the importance of leadership both from the top and bottom. This two-way communication allows ground-level employees to express concerns and solutions up the chain as easily as direction is given from the top.

If the chain of upward communication is broken, employees will feel exactly how you’re treating them: undervalued and disregarded. They won’t be able to give you the feedback you need in order to understand their situation and needs. This is a perfect recipe for stress, frustration, and inefficiency.

Step 7: Recognize Employees When They Do Well

There are a lot of ways that you can give employee recognition. It can be public or private, but the principles are the same.

Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a classic that gives hundreds of actionable insights on how to apply this tip. It’s definitely worth the read for any human being who ever talks to other human beings.

In the book, there’s a phrase that Carnegie repeats endlessly to drive his point home. “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Doing this has the added benefit of “giving the other person a fine reputation to live up to.”

When people feel like they and their accomplishments are valued, morale goes up, and the stressful tasks that seemed impossible to tackle become opportunities for recognition.

Tips for Helping Employees Implement Stress Management Techniques

First, let’s be clear: one of the most effective ways to acknowledge and address employee stress is by offering generous benefits. By providing benefits such as health insurance, a 401k, student loan repayment, and paid time off, employers can take a significant load of stress off of their workers. Another great way to help employees deal with stress is offering a wellness program

But there are also simple stress management techniques that employees can take ownership of. Your job is to encourage employees to use them! Here are a few ways that employees can manage their stress:

Tip 1: Quiet Reflection

Being still in mindful meditation or prayer is an effective way to hit the “pause” button and give the body and mind a moment to get things in perspective. Some companies encourage these practices by providing quiet spaces in the office for time-outs. Employees should be encouraged to take breaks regularly and, for those with offices, feel free to shut the door when needed.

You can also encourage employees to be on the lookout for patterns in their workplace stress. Does it usually happen at a certain time of day? Do they feel more stressed after interacting with certain people? Being mindful of what usually causes stress will help them know when they should take a step back from what they’re doing.

Tip 2: Physical Exercise

Getting physical is likely the best way to deal with stressors because it allows our bodies to release tension and produce endorphins and other mood-elevating neurochemicals. If you’re in an office, encourage others to take a brisk walk during your lunch hour, perhaps starting a walking group with colleagues.  For remote workers, you could start a virtual group committed to regular short stints of physical movement. See if the company can support your efforts with fun swag!  Encourage “stretch breaks” during video conferences. Make movement a part of company culture.

Employers can go above and beyond by offering workout classes during lunch, paying for employee gym memberships, or otherwise getting creative with how they encourage physical activity.

Tip 3: Get Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation itself can be a stress trigger, so getting the right amount of sleep (between seven to nine hours per night) is an effective strategy to control stress. Sleep is restorative, regulates mood, increases calmness, and improves decision-making. You can solve issues and cope better when you are well-rested. While you probably can’t help your employees sleep better directly, your company can adopt a culture of “leave work at work,” which may help. Be mindful not to encourage excessive hours or weekends and overtime work. Give clear messages about the importance of work/life balance, staying fit, and getting restorative rest.

Tip 4: Time Management

When employees don’t have enough time to get things done at work, their stress levels can easily skyrocket. You can minimize this common stress trigger by teaching time management skills during trainings, employee retreats, and other meetings.

Tip 5: Connect With Nature

Connecting with the great outdoors lowers stress hormone (cortisol) levels. Studies have shown that just 20 minutes a day can have a positive effect. Step outside and find a green space to enjoy!  If your company isn’t close to green spaces, consider incorporating nature’s stress-relieving properties by adding a small water feature to your workspace or a quiet room with nature photographs. Sometimes even a seat on a bench outside the building can offer a view of the sheer expanse of sky and perhaps a few clouds to allow your mind to wander in a different direction for a bit.

Less Stress, More Progress

The presence or absence of stress is an important part of a company culture and HR program. Stress in the workplace is a drain on productivity and can be a poison to your workforce, but there’s a lot you can do about it. By balancing what is required of your employees with their resources and abilities, you can avoid a lot of this stress. As stress fades, you’ll find that your employees are more happy and productive, and your stress-related costs diminish.

Take care of your people and protect your business

Track essential employee data, digitize your manual HR processes, and improve your employee experience with Eddy People.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Stress Management

Adopt a wellness program as a part of overall business strategy in order to promote peak performance. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a part of your current benefits package.
Employees who feel their best will produce their best work. Employee wellness has a direct correlation to engagement, and engagement has a direct correlation to productivity.
Significant changes in behavior, including but not limited to reduced patience, emotional outbursts, increased sick days, failing to complete assignments, or any out-of-the-norm behaviors are all signs of stress.

Milly Christmann is a high energy, operationally oriented talent management leader with extensive expertise in human resources, sales management, service and operations. She is recognized for collaborating with leaders to achieve their business goals by unleashing the power of an engaged workforce. By using process improvement, technology and strong, impassioned people skills as well as by attracting, developing and retaining top talent, Ms. Christmann drives change that matters.

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