Statistically speaking, working adults typically spend 33% of our waking hours at work. Compounded with personal, financial and physical demands, the ability to manage overall stress can become, well, stressful.
From the employer’s perspective, healthy levels of stress can actually be motivating and effective in helping employees problem solve and overcome workplace challenges. However, when faced with a fast paced and ever changing work environment, too much stress over a prolonged period of time can manifest in undesirable behaviors such as low productivity and absenteeism, hence negatively impacting the bottom line.
According to a Forbes article published on March 20, 2013, “the average business professional has 30 to 100 projects on their plate. Modern workers are interrupted seven times an hour and distracted up to 2.1 hours a day. And four out of 10 people working at large companies are experiencing a major corporate restructuring, and therefore facing uncertainly about their futures. This may be why more than 40% of adults say they lie awake at night plagued by the stressful events of the day.” Time management has never been more important.
Additional Factors Contributing to Job Stress
- When an employee lacks the necessary knowledge to be successful in the job.
- Unreasonably heavy work loads
- Poor lines of communication with one’s manager
- Unclear job expectations and responsibilities
- An inability to say “no”
- Lack of variety or challenge in one’s duties
- Lack of organization and time management skills.
- Not feeling fairly compensated
- Conflicts with management, co-workers, or clients
The Cost of Stress
Stress has become well recognized as a serious wellness issue that also impacts the cost of employer supported health benefits. In a December 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), stress and mental illness were identified by HR professionals as their top employee health concerns. Stress has the potential to cause headaches, anxiety, substance abuse, high blood pressure, obesity, exhaustion, heart disease, and diabetes.
One authority has estimated that 60‐90% of medical problems are associated with stress and one large insurance company estimates that 45% of corporate after tax profits are spent on health benefits. But that only reflects a portion of the actual cost. A true calculation should include absenteeism, job turnover, replacement cost for employees who leave the job, accidents, workplace injuries, as well as the costs of quality control, administration, and customer service problems related to stress among other indirect costs. The American Institute of Stress claims that chronic stress actually adds over $300 billion each year to cover associated health care costs and absentee rates. That represents a cost of over $600 to every “stressed” worker – an investment of dollars that gives no return on investment.
The Signs of Stressed Staff
Stress can appear in many forms at work:
- an increase in unexplained absences
- poor performance,
- poor time‐keeping,
- increased tobacco or caffeine use,
- frequent headaches or backaches,
- withdrawal from social interaction with co-workers
- poor judgment or indecisiveness,
- technical or safety errors,
- lack of sleep, constant tiredness or low energy,
- unusual displays of emotion
What Can You Do to Alleviate Job Stress?
Here 5 Stress Areas and Ways to Counter Their Impact to the Bottom Line.
- Work Performance – Stopping to assess what your own company culture and practices do to create job stress and interfere with profitability is an important first step. Identify and eliminate duplication and inefficiencies in your processes. Engage your employees to contribute ideas and insight to improve processes. Open lines of communication with management. Provide refresher training where inconsistencies lie. Clarify job expectations and job duties. Talk to your employees to uncover their concerns and needs on the job. While seemingly obvious solutions, not all organizations effectively do them.
- Career – Remember, the desire to lead is essential to setting up your high potential performers for success in leading others. If they prefer to contribute at the individual level, ensure that there are other opportunities that will engage them, challenge them, and play to their strengths. If your organization has limited upward mobility, stretching an employee’s knowledge through new duties, new challenges or increased autonomy can earn both loyalty and job satisfaction.
- Community – Corporate philanthropy and giving programs are not just a passing trend. Incoming generations to the workforce are looking to work for companies that align with their personal values and community interests. Providing community based activities like Habitat for Humanity group builds, volunteering at shelters or food banks, or partnering with a local charity can provide positive work place experiences to help offset stressful ones.
- Physical Stress – Promote healthy living habits such as dietary suggestion and exercise programs by partnering with local gyms or centers to provide discounts. If a formal wellness program is not in your budget, simple “walk break” routines, informational brochures, changes to vending machine options, or weight loss / healthy habit challenges with inexpensive awards or incentives can go a long way to increase awareness.
- Financial Stress – What you can’t afford in the way of pay raises, you can compensate for by providing education and resources to individual employees for finance management through certified financial advisors. If you offer 401(k) or other savings benefit plans, you may have the obligation to educate your workforce anyway. Some non-profit educational institutes provide training and services through employers at little or no cost to assist employees in personal financial management. Also, educating employees on how they directly impact your bottom line, with transparency on the company’s areas of opportunities, helps them to make wiser choices in their daily duties to protect he company’s assets and engages them in the desire to improve their own results.
Remember: Suffering job stress is a process. Watch for the warning signs in your staff. If you catch the symptoms in your employees early, you will have an easier time finding and fixing the root of the problem.