It has long been recognized that work-related stress plays a role and affects employee performance. The experience of high stress levels reduces the ability of individuals to focus on tasks and work effectively. The good news is that there is a lot that good employers and managers can do to prevent the negative effects of stress in the workplace.
Surveys in Switzerland have shown that around 80% of the workforce suffer from stress symptoms. More than a quarter of all employees feel stressed "often" to "very often" (Source: SECO, 2010). The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work warns that – after back pain – stress is now the second largest work-related health problem. Nowadays it is unmistakable that job-related stress is an increasing problem of our society.
Why is too much stress counterproductive?
Besides having a "mission" in your job (more about this aspect) and a purpose in life, employees want a balance of leisure, work, family time, hobbies and enough sleep.
When people are under pressure, they do not follow their instincts and avoid doing what is indeed good for them, such as: exercising, walking in the nature, eating healthy food and socializing. After all, it is exactly these activities that give people the much-needed private and internal time-out in the hectic rush.
But, what can cause stress? For example, the demands from your coworkers, the level of authority some workers need to have about how teams are performing, the lack of support from management, or even the nature of relationships at work.
Nevertheless, not all the causes for stress are found at the workplace. Stress can also be caused by relationship problems, financial worries, loneliness, mental or physical illnesses, all of which can also cause unhealthy pressure that effects workplace performance.
What can managers do to prevent stress?
- Employees should feel valued and integrated in their organization and managers should have open and frequent communication with them.
- The cultural attitude towards stress must be discussed and brought inside the modern age. Employees are often concerned about the stigma associated with mental states (or stress).
- Managers should be trained in people's skills and dealing with common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
- Learn to plan the day for energy and focus: plan some breaks with your team during the day to stand up and take a short walk in the office, stretch out at the desk or try a breathing exercise. Studies show that if we follow an intense concentration period for 90 minutes – followed by a short recovery period – we can relieve of stress and regenerate ourselves. (Source: Forbes)
- Make sure the jobs are flexible and well-designed. Managers should always inform and consult with their employees about changes that may affect them before they happen; and even encourage them to ask questions before, during and after work so that they feel involved.
- Managers need to "walk the talk" and not just "talk the talk". They should actively promote a healthy lifestyle by keeping a good balance between work and life, managing their working hours, taking full advantage of their holiday entitlement and having lunch breaks. (Source: HR Magazine)
Managers are often the face, voice and tone of the organization to their employees. The way you treat your employees can affect how they perceive their value to the business. Ensuring that employees are valued by actively accompanying their development and career pathways; being sensitive to their needs and creating an environment in which they feel they belong, are some of the areas in which managers can contribute to increase organizational engagement.
These behaviors and efforts pay off when employees are in stressful situations.
About the Author: Rossana A. Ammann
Rossana is a Venezuelan journalist specialized in storytelling, corporate communications and digital media strategy. She is passionate about cultural and behavioral change, people’s stories and supporting employer branding and organizational development. You can find her work and stay in contact with her via LinkedIn.