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The Dangers of Workplace Stress — and How to Deal With It

Businessman stressed out at work.

What trou­bles the minds of your employ­ees can trou­ble your organ­i­sa­tion as a whole

Employ­ees are the most impor­tant asset of any mod­ern com­pa­ny. Their input, effort and hard work keeps process­es run­ning smooth­ly and gives your com­pa­ny its com­pet­i­tive edge. As such, HR exec­u­tives must keep track of fac­tors that affect employ­ee per­for­mance, well­be­ing and productivity.

One key employ­ee wel­fare con­sid­er­a­tion is that of work­place stress. A cer­tain degree of stress is nat­ur­al, but when an indi­vid­ual deals with anx­i­ety for too long, it can impact their health, per­for­mance and engage­ment lev­els. Evi­dence sug­gests the state of work­place stress is actu­al­ly wors­en­ing, with one in six employ­ees stat­ing they feel far more stressed now than they did a year ago, with one in eight hav­ing to go on med­ica­tion to cope. This comes at a pro­duc­tiv­i­ty cost, with 11.7 mil­lion work­ing days being lost per year.

To keep your com­pa­ny per­form­ing suc­cess­ful­ly, per­for­mance man­age­ment pro­fes­sion­als need to be mind­ful of the mat­ter of work­place stress, man­agers must be able to detect warn­ing signs of anx­i­ety and HR should know how to rem­e­dy the situation.

What is work­place stress?

Work­place stress is the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al response suf­fered by employ­ees as a result of job demands. Often, the employ­ee will feel com­plete­ly unable to ful­fil their role ade­quate­ly, and the effort of try­ing to cre­ates an inter­nal con­flict that impacts their health.

Stress can affect any­one at any lev­el of a busi­ness. Accord­ing to a Health and Safe­ty Exec­u­tive (HSE) study span­ning the years of 2014 and 2015, 440,000 peo­ple in the UK report­ed work-relat­ed stress and 40% of all work-relat­ed ill­ness was due to anx­i­ety. This raised to a total of 488,000 cas­es and 45% between 2015 and 2016. On top of this, 11.7 mil­lion work­days are lost each year as a result of stress, cost­ing the UK econ­o­my near­ly £6.5 bil­lion.

These sta­tis­tics are alarm­ing, and clear­ly action needs to be tak­en, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en the fact that neu­ro­sci­en­tists believe anx­i­ety to be con­ta­gious. The phe­nom­e­non is known as the stress con­ta­gion effect. Our mir­ror neu­rones reflect the stress of oth­ers, mean­ing the con­di­tion can spread like a virus.

What caus­es work­place stress?

Stress can occur for a num­ber of rea­sons, some of which are a lack of man­age­r­i­al sup­port, work-relat­ed harass­ment, short staffing and work pres­sures. Some peo­ple may not be able to cope with the work­load or goals giv­en to them. When employ­ees have an unclear idea as to their job expec­ta­tions, if their work is nev­er appre­ci­at­ed or reward­ed and if their pro­duc­tiv­i­ty demands are too high, it is like­ly they will suf­fer stress as a result. Anx­i­ety can also occur when an employ­ee feels a lack of con­trol over their own duties.

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, stress is unavoid­able if lit­tle or no atten­tion is paid to employ­ee-man­ag­er rela­tion­ships, job design and per­for­mance man­age­ment. The impact of this stress has far-reach­ing implications.

How does stress affect your employees?

Some peo­ple insist they per­form bet­ter with an ele­ment of stress, but stud­ies have shown that this is not the case. Stress can prompt a huge num­ber of health prob­lems, includ­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, sleep prob­lems, headaches and hyper­ten­sion. Accord­ing to a report from Har­vard and Stan­ford Busi­ness Schools, stress can lead to fatal con­di­tions that ulti­mate­ly kill approx­i­mate­ly 120,000 peo­ple per year. Stress can also affect per­for­mance in terms of a loss of moti­va­tion, con­cen­tra­tion and mem­o­ry. It can also cause poor deci­sion-mak­ing. Behav­ioral­ly, you might notice increased irri­tabil­i­ty and social isolation.

Notably, stress has a huge impact on employ­ee engage­ment. Of those employ­ees who report high stress, 51% of them are dis­en­gaged from work, with only 9% claim­ing to be engaged. Con­verse­ly, of those who report low stress, 57% are high­ly engaged and only 8% are disengaged.

How does stress impact your organisation?

When it comes to how indi­vid­ual employ­ee stress impacts your organ­i­sa­tion as a whole, you should con­sid­er employ­ee reten­tion. Accord­ing to one study, 44% of UK work­ers know some­one who has giv­en up work due to stress. Employ­ees who feel over­whelmed and over­worked are like­ly to burn out and leave their cur­rent posi­tion, mean­ing your com­pa­ny has to deal with all the finan­cial and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty byprod­ucts involved with high turnover.

Absen­teeism is a clear down­side of work­place stress, as those suf­fer­ing from stress are more like­ly to have increased absence due to sick­ness; stress was recent­ly list­ed as the top rea­son for long-term sick leave. In addi­tion to this, stress has been linked to low­er over­all per­for­mance and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, as well as decreased moti­va­tion and morale.

How can you spot a stressed employee?

In a num­ber of coun­tries, employ­ers have a legal respon­si­bil­i­ty to recog­nise and address stress in the work­place. If you are con­cerned stress is caus­ing issues in your organ­i­sa­tion, keep an eye out for the fol­low­ing warn­ing signs:

  • The employ­ee is tak­ing more time off work than usual
  • They are irritable
  • They have reduced productivity
  • Their con­cen­tra­tion is impaired
  • They are over­ly sensitive
  • They are aggressive
  • They stop tak­ing lunch breaks, or reg­u­lar­ly sched­uled hourly breaks
  • They appear with­drawn from their work­place friendships

What can your per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem do about stress?

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is essen­tial when it comes to deal­ing with work­place stress. Incor­po­rate reg­u­lar one-on-one per­for­mance dis­cus­sions into your per­for­mance man­age­ment process. This will open up lines of hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mean­ing your employ­ees are like­ly to feel more com­fort­able dis­cussing any press­ing stres­sors or con­cerns. This is a great start­ing point to reliev­ing large sources of stress. Dur­ing these one-on-ones, man­agers should touch on the employee’s strengths and how they can be bet­ter lever­aged in their role. This will increase their con­fi­dence levels.

Put employ­ees in the dri­ving seat when it comes to set­ting their own SMART goals and per­for­mance objec­tives. Employ­ees know what they are capa­ble of and are there­fore more able to set them­selves real­is­tic goals. Still, you can allow this goal-set­ting process to be a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort. Man­agers can have a say in whether or not the goals are appro­pri­ate, but in gen­er­al, it is a great idea to give employ­ees an ele­ment of freedom.

Dis­cuss flex­i­ble work­ing in appro­pri­ate sit­u­a­tions. If a 9 – 5 work­ing sched­ule isn’t ide­al for the employ­ee in ques­tion, con­sid­er telecom­mut­ing or flexi-time. This might do won­ders when it comes to work-life bal­ance and reliev­ing the demands placed on them.

Impor­tant­ly, HR should have a clear pol­i­cy on breaks. Employ­ees should have the free­dom to escape their com­put­ers for ten min­utes, with­out wor­ry­ing about the ram­i­fi­ca­tions. This time will allow them to take a step back and reflect on their work, while stretch­ing their legs and clear­ing their minds. Man­agers should lead by exam­ple and take breaks them­selves, which will help to demon­strate that short, reg­u­lar breaks are part of your com­pa­ny culture.

To find out how Clear Review can trans­form the effec­tive­ness of your per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem, use our online book­ing sys­tem to book a per­son­al demo now.