Ways Employers Can Minimize Workplace Stress

Do you supervise or manage anyone? Are your subordinates suffering from job stress? Does your work environment contribute to worker stress? Do you address job stress issues?

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), job stress occurs when job requirements don’t match employee capabilities, resources or needs. Widespread and costly, job stress is called a “world health epidemic” by the World Health Organization.

Companies pay out millions as a result of accidents, absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, legal, medical and insurance costs, and court judgments. NIOSH reports that sixty percent of lost work days each year can be attributed to stress-related conditions.

 Job conditions that promote stress

How many of the following conditions exist in your company?

 - Limited employee influence over decisions affecting work

- Ambiguous job descriptions, conflicting expectations, inconsistent rules

- Rude customers or clients

- Few stress breaks

- Excessive competition among co-workers

- Responsibilities without adequate control or resources

- Job insecurity and no preparation for change

- Inability of workers to balance personal and work lives

- Gender or cultural biases

- Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise    

- Excessive bureaucracy, paperwork

- Nasty politics

- Few advancement opportunities

- Low salary for job and industry

- Too much or too little work

- Poor communication, little information to perform well or plan

- Little recognition or support from co-workers or supervisors

- Little employee development or training

- Management insensitive to grievances, family-friendly policies

Counteracting job stress

Stressed workers often feel powerless to improve their work environments, but supervisors can make a difference. Be responsive to workers’ needs. Consider the following:

  1. Match worker traits to job requirements. Conduct appropriate assessments to identify employee needs, interests, skills and goals. Create job descriptions to accommodate worker characteristics and job requirements. Ensure workloads are compatible with workers’ capabilities and resources.
  2. Divide or rotate tasks. Organize work so that employees can take turns at stressful or monotonous tasks. Hire additional help during demanding times.
  3. Plan regular breaks in routine and to socialize. Coffee breaks, social activities and adequate vacation time offer relief from stress.
  4. Conduct realistic orientation programs. Provide prospective employees with truthful company policies and procedures to reduce unrealistic expectations.
  5. Provide opportunities to participate in decisions affecting jobs. This helps employees take ownership of their work. Encourage employees to express opinions and share helpful new ideas.
  6. Provide appropriate training and development. Effective training is ongoing and addresses employee needs and concerns. Stress management programs help participants recognize and manage stress as well as feel secure in reporting stressors.
  7. Give constructive performance feedback and recognition. Praise and constructive feedback should not only come at formal evaluations when promotions and pay raises are discussed but also be offered spontaneously and informally. Invite employees to participate in evaluations.

 Positive reinforcement is more effective than negative. Give immediate, specific, frequent feedback. Recognize good performers publicly. Coach marginal performers. 

Reinforce and encourage creativity, resilience and risk-taking.

  1. Clearly define roles and responsibilities. Clarify employee and organizational goals. Employees need to know the roles they play in achieving company goals. Job responsibilities that are reasonable, well-defined and consistent help workers identify themselves in the organization and create a shared purpose between employees and employers.
  2. Communicate. Keep employees informed and involved. Let them know how the company is doing and how their work impacts the big picture. Be honest, and ask for feedback about your own and the company’s communication. Advise employees about changes in rules and rationale for decisions. 

Listen. Let others know you hear and understand their thoughts. Address issues quickly and discuss individual concerns privately. Reduce uncertainty about future employment prospects. Share information about upcoming changes to help staff deal with anxiety and dispel rumours.

  1. Offer assistance with work/life balance issues. Establish work schedules that are compatible with employees' non-work responsibilities. Provide flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, on-site daycare.

Offer employee assistance services such as legal assistance and counselling to deal with family and career issues.

Implementing change takes time. Eliminate one stressor at a time. Involve employees in prioritizing these. You will have healthier, happier, more productive workers. 

Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life provides additional ways both employers and employees can minimize stress at work: