Everyone experiences stress at some point, but when it occurs in the workplace, the effects can become dangerously widespread. Job performance is diminished, productivity lessened, and if left unchecked, stress can dominate the entire environment and impact a business’s capacity for growth.
On the other hand, a company culture dedicated to employee health and well-being often sees a spike in productivity, higher morale, and a greater willingness to contribute above and beyond one’s job responsibilities.
It seems, therefore, that businesses have a genuine stake in helping ensure that stress be kept to an absolute minimum in the workplace. Here are suggestions for achieving this laudable objective:
Be aware of signs of stress. Some employers either neglect to track employee well-being or simply miss signs that stress is creeping into the environment. But once you start looking, signs of stress or overwork can be fairly easy to spot:
- Employees working long hours (after it’s time to go home)
- Projects completed in a rush, with subpar results
- A workplace atmosphere that feels tense and irritable
- Decreasing levels of focus and attention in staff meetings
- General sense of discouragement in the workplace
Any of these signs should serve as a warning, but if you detect more than one, it’s time to take action.
Promote physical activity. We all know human beings simply aren’t designed to sit at a desk for hours at a time. But unless it’s approved by senior leadership, your hard-working team isn’t inclined to take a badly needed break from their duties and move around.
Even a little bit of exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace in the company parking lot, can alleviate stress and improve focus. Encourage workers to take regular breaks that involve some minor physical activity or consider offering discounted memberships in a local gym.
Be transparent (as much as possible) about organizational changes. A common source of stress is confusion and anxiety about changes affecting the workplace. Employees who lack any concrete information about such changes fall victim to rumors and gossip, which only increase stress levels and diminish productivity.
Keeping employees updated is critical because, as business advisor Shaw Gibbs notes, “there is nothing worse than being kept in the dark.” In an atmosphere of open communication, employees are more likely to “share concerns, ideas and thoughts, making for much stronger working relationships and a healthier company culture.”
Demonstrate your appreciation for employee contributions. When employees feel their work isn’t valued, they experience stress about their future with the organization. Taking time and perhaps incurring some minor expense to show your appreciation is well worth the effort, when the result is less employee stress and greater productivity. Here are effective ways to show employees that they matter:
- Provide written recognition and share with the entire workforce
- Give employees “pet projects” that move the business forward
- Show interest in their lives beyond the workplace
- Host an employee appreciation lunch
- Provide regular, constructive feedback on their job performance
Demonstrating appreciation improves your company culture, boosts morale, prevents costly turnover and benefits your bottom line.
Encourage the use of PTO and vacation time. In some corporate cultures, employees feel that taking earned time off will somehow work to their detriment. Make sure you’re not sending the wrong signals (i.e., never stop working) by actively encouraging employees to use their PTO and vacation time to get away from the work environment and “de-stress.”
At the same time, it’s smart to ensure you have “adequate back-up procedures, so employees don’t feel obligated to stay in the office” and to discourage employees from “checking in while they’re away.”
Finally, keep in mind that employees always follow your lead. Make it clear, by both your actions and words, that promoting a stress-free environment is a company priority. You’ll likely see an upswing in morale and productivity when this message comes across loud and clear.