We have news for you: Your employees are stressed.
With looming deadlines, challenging goals and targets, and complex team dynamics, the workplace has become a major stressor for the majority of employees.
According to our own Stress and Productivity Survey, 94% of respondents state that they experience stress at work. Even more alarming? Almost one-third of them say that their stress level is high or unsustainably high.
These mounting pressures and frayed nerves make your job as a manager that much tougher. How can you get the most out of your employees without pushing them over the edge? How do you keep morale high when everybody is biting their fingernails? How can you foster a culture of support and positivity when the work still needs to get done?
These aren’t easy questions, which is why we’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know to effectively manage your high-stress employees and mitigate the effects of stress on your team.
Why Is Workplace Stress Such a Big Deal?
While stress has become the norm in the the working life for most people, chronic stress really does have some serious consequences.
First, let’s focus on the negative effects it has on your individual employees. From headaches to depression to risk of heart attack to high blood pressure, the physical symptoms of stress definitely take a toll. But there’s a mental and emotional tax as well.
In our survey, over 50% of respondents experienced sleep loss as a result of stress. And, over a quarter of employees state that they’ll burn out in the next 12 months, if their stress levels don’t let up.
If you care about your employees (and of course you do!), those statistics are compelling enough. However, it’s important to know that continuously high levels of stress can send your whole team into a rapid nosedive.
For starters, you’ll notice a decrease in productivity. Research from global consulting company Willis Towers Watson shows that 57% of employees who are very stressed report feeling less productive and less engaged at work. Yet, a slump in productivity is just one of the symptoms of stress in the workplace.
The work that your stressed-out employees do manage to accomplish? It won’t be too high-quality. Because feeling stressed often leads to rushing through work, more errors slip through. Over a quarter of respondents in our Stress and Productivity Survey report a decline in work quality due to stress.
Finally, too much stress can kick us into “fight or flight” mode, which can lead to a high rate of turnover on your team. our survey concluded that over half of respondents admit to looking for a new job when they think the stress is too much, and 25% have actually quit a job due to stress in the workplace.
Strategies for Managing Stress in the Workplace
Needless to say, chronically high levels of stress in the workplace aren’t good for your employees or your organization as a whole.
But when deadlines need to be met and goals need to be satisfied, seeking to eliminate stress in the workplace altogether is an unrealistic goal.
No, you’ll never kick all stress to the curb. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce the amount of stress your employees experience and help them feel supported and positive — even when their to-do lists get long. We’ve identified what causes workplace stress and the strategies needed to manage it effectively.
1. Recognize Their Hard Work (and Their Stress)
Despite the fact that it seems obvious, simply recognizing stress in the workplace can go a long way in making your employees feel seen and heard.
“The best thing to do first is to acknowledge the stress factors and the existing workload, and then appreciate the work each employee is doing to work toward the goal,” explains Nikita Lawrence, Senior HR Ops Liaison and Change Management Consultant.
Feeling as if their overwhelming workloads and hard work continue to go unnoticed will only compound the stress and frustration your employees are feeling. So, in addition to pointing to the stress and making it known that it’s a problem you’re working to resolve, make sure to recognize and show sincere gratitude and appreciation for their continued efforts.
Something as simple as a compliment, a “thank you,” or even some morning doughnuts to celebrate a recent project will help your team members to know that they aren’t just stuck on a hamster wheel where their work is totally unappreciated.
2. Respect Their Time Away From the Office
In our Stress and Productivity Survey, 67% of respondents state that their average daily stress levels range from moderate to unsustainably high.
Here’s what’s even more interesting: Those same respondents are 84% more likely to say that receiving an email or text message from a superior outside of work hours has a high impact on their stress level compared to respondents who experience lower stress on a daily basis.
What does this mean for you? If you’re guilty of pinging employees when they’re out of the office — whether it’s for the weekend, a vacation, or other days off — you’re only adding to their already-high stress levels.
Put simply, resist the urge to get in touch when you know they aren’t “on the clock.” Give them the time they need (and deserve) to recharge.
Tip: If you absolutely need to get an important note or reminder out of your brain and down on paper, either save it as a draft to be sent when that employee returns or make it clear that you don’t expect an immediate response by including something like “NOT URGENT” or “DON’T RESPOND UNTIL YOU’RE BACK” directly in the subject line.
3. In Fact, Give Them More Time Away…
“In managing employees and independent contractors, I’ve found that a flexible work environment has greatly helped high-stress employees. Many are juggling careers, families, and — more recently — aging parents,” explains Dr. Sarah Renee Langley, Leadership Coach, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Founder and CEO of LeadHer International.
In our survey, respondents with moderate to high stress in the workplace are 19% more likely to say that flexible hours or working from home would help reduce their stress levels. Additionally, research from Owl Labs states that companies that support remote work boast 25% lower turnover than companies that don’t.
Can you offer even just one work-from-home day each week? Can you give your employees a little more breathing room so that they can fit personal commitments — whether it’s kids’ recitals or dentist appointments — in seamlessly with their work life?
Recognize the fact that your employees have lives outside of work and give them even just a few options to take breaks from the stress and distractions of a traditional office environment.
4. Choose a Single Source of Truth
How often do your employees have to scramble to find the information they need? Are they frequently challenged by needing to monitor progress on projects, or track down the latest communication or update?
This is why implementing a work management platform can be such a huge help for your employees. It gives convenient access to whatever they need, streamlines communication, offers visibility into workloads, and manages stress in the workplace by ensuring necessary information is all in one place.
Plus, with this sort of solution in place, your employees will be able to work seamlessly and efficiently on projects, whether they’re in the office or working remotely.
Lawrence points out that reminding your team “of the progress already made, the bigger vision, and how their role is vital to the success of the greater vision” is a key part of managing stress in the workplace. A work management platform can help you do all of that in a straightforward and easy-to-implement way.
5. Reduce Your Meetings
If you’re curious about exactly why your employees feel so stressed in the workplace, here’s one likely reason: They feel short on time. Where exactly is all of their time going? Meetings.
15% of an organization’s collective time is spent on meetings. Yet, in a separate study, 71% of senior managers said that meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
These excessive meetings aren’t just wasting time and causing stress for your employees — they’re costing you too. Our Stress and Productivity Survey indicated that 78% of managers admit that they spend too much time in meetings instead of doing actual work.
So, how can you manage the meeting overload? A work management platform can help here too. Since communication is centralized, it reduces or even eliminates the needs for meetings that are only glorified check-ins or status updates.
It’s also worth taking an honest look at any recurring meetings on your schedule to see if any could be combined or removed to give your employees (and you!) some valuable time back.
Finally, some companies have gone so far as to institute entire no-meeting days or blocks of time when no meetings can be scheduled across the company. It’s an effective way to make sure that your team is getting the adequate time they need to do focused and productive work.
Tip: For the meetings you do need, consider making them walking meetings or find a way to incorporate some movement in another way. “Some kind of physical activity is a good way to de-stress and redirect energy in a calmer manner,” explains Dr. Langley.
6. Match Up Employees
Sometimes we just need someone to lean on and help us power through those stressful times. This is why pairing some of your employees together can be a helpful tactic for dealing with high stress in the workplace.
“Pair experienced workers with newer employees,” says Jacob Dayan, CEO and Co-founder of Community Tax, a full-service tax and accounting firm.
“This isn’t to micromanage one person, but it’s to expose the person to other ways of getting things done within the office more efficiently. He continues, “This will give your employees the power of choice and allow them to decide which way is less stressful for them to complete a task.”
In addition to exposing them to ways to more effectively manage their own workloads, inspiring an increased sense of camaraderie on your team certainly never hurts.
7. Be Realistic With Your Expectations
If you had to boil everything down and identify the most common cause of stress in the workplace, what would you say? If you guessed deadlines, you’re correct. 30% of respondents to this CareerCast survey cited deadlines as their primary stressor.
You need to keep your team on track and accountable, which means that deadlines are unavoidable. However, it’s important that you’re realistic about what your team can handle in terms of turnaround times and workloads.
Unfortunately, a recent survey concluded that a whopping 75% of respondents think their bosses have unrealistic expectations.
How can you keep your own expectations in check? A resource management tool can give you complete visibility into each of your team member’s workload and capacity, so you can make sure you aren’t overloading any one person.
That bird’s-eye view of who’s working on what is a huge help, but it shouldn’t serve as a replacement for checking in with each of your employees individually to gauge how they’re feeling about their performance, workloads, and expectations.
“For employees that are prone to stress, I dedicate extra attention to them when necessary by scheduling one-on-one meetings,” explains Steve Kurniawan, Growth Strategist. “By showing that I care about them, I can inspire them to care about the company more — leading to less stress, because they work with a purpose.”
During these check-ins, ask questions like the following:
- What’s something you’re really proud of since our last check-in?
- Is there something that’s serving as a point of frustration for you recently?
- What can I be doing more or less of to make your work life a little less stressful?
Their answers will give you an accurate read on what’s going well for your team members — and what might be adding to their stress at work.
Less Stress and More Success
Unfortunately, there’s no strategy to eliminate stress on your team entirely. But, even acknowledging that stress at work is a prevalent problem and finding some ways to alleviate the stress on your employees is a huge step in the right direction.
“As a manager, if you show your team that you trust them and you care about their wellbeing, that alone helps reduce some of the tension for them,” concludes Dr. Langley, “Because they know that they are valued.”
Want to learn more about stress in the workplace and how it might be silently sabotaging your team? Download our report The Stress Epidemic: Employees Are Looking for a Way Out for everything you need to know.
Banner photo: Andrew Slate for Wrike