This article was updated on July 19, 2018.
No matter your business or industry, stress is a common workplace hazard. As a catalyst for employee health problems, lost productivity, absenteeism, burnout, resignations and workplace accidents, stress is hard to match. HR leaders should be seeking to implement employee learning programs that address the causes and consequences of stress.
The Causes of Workplace Stress
Healthcare Advocates explains the causes of stress: "On-the-job stressors range from unclear job expectations and time pressures to noisy work stations. A significant factor is lack of accommodation for work/life balance, which can add to the stress load."
Insights from the ADP Research Institute® report, The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workforce, add additional context to our understanding of workplace stress. The global research suggests that both millennial employees and Career Knowledge Workers (employees with 5 to 15 years of workplace experience) feel negatively about certain workplace trends, such as organizations hiring more contract workers instead of full-time employees (50 percent of millennials and 57 percent of Career Knowledge Workers) and the growth of automation to replace people doing repetitive tasks (57 percent and 51 percent respectively). The ADP study also found that a significant percentage of Career Knowledge Workers (48 percent) felt negatively about changes in the retirement age, as well as the fast pace of change in today's business world and the associated burdens placed upon employees to shift roles and learn new skills quickly (40 percent).
With all of those stressors sure to continue, employee learning programs should be big part of your efforts to attack workplace stress.
7 Strategies to Manage Stress
1. Assess the stress. You already know the key indicators of stress, so analyze your absenteeism rates, your turnover, your employee health indicators, the number of employee complaints and trends in your productivity. Take a good, close look at the results of your employee satisfaction surveys, too. Such an analysis, which will require an aggregation of employee-related data, will enable you to see the scope and cost of your organization's stress challenge.
2. Conduct a health risk assessment (HRA). An HRA is a tool that can help organizations and individual employees understand health-related risk factors such as workplace stress. According to the National Institutes of Health, it should be part of a process for developing appropriate interventions to reduce those risk factors. An HRA questionnaire, for instance, would ask an employee about job stress and satisfaction, as well as their exercise habits, eating, sleeping and other outside factors.
3. Start simple. Strategies for coping with stress need not be overly complicated. One good place to start, for instance, is with clear communication to clarify (and possibly recalibrate) employee roles and expectations, as well as reinforcing organizational mission.
4. Address work-life balance concerns. Much workplace stress comes from a perceived inability to properly balance work and life. HR leaders can develop strategies to address this stressor by enabling greater workplace flexibility in the form of remote working, flexible schedules, support for parenting/eldercare and flexible benefit offerings.
5. Evaluate the office environment. All employees are busy and increasingly need to collaborate in shared spaces, but providing spaces that support individual focus and reflection/recharging are also important. Workplaces matter for health and productivity, so any assessment of workplace stress should include a review of the physical space. As noted in The Guardian, "Making an office work for your employees isn't rocket science — natural light, well-monitored temperature, good facilities — even the smallest changes show you value your people and their well-being. This will be mirrored in how they feel about their job."
6. Leverage technology as a stress-buster. Office productivity applications can reduce job stress by helping your employees to better manage their time and work flow. An increasing array of mobile apps and online tools offer productivity and time management options such as calendars, task lists and reminders/alerts to facilitate employee organization and provide an enhanced sense of control.
7. Foster "mindfulness." Some businesses have developed employee learning programs around "mindfulness" to foster quiet reflection/meditation to manage stress. Blue chip enterprises such as General Motors, Google and Proctor & Gamble have found them useful, according to an article on Alternet.
Workplace stress isn't going away. So organizations should monitor the drivers and the costs of workplace stress. By considering the seven suggestions above, you'll be on your way to getting a firmer grip on the stress within your organization.
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