According to studies conducted by The American Institute of Stress, 40% of workers reported that their job was very or extremely stressful, 26% of workers said they were “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work.
If this doesn’t scare you as an employer, let me explain why it should.
There are hard costs associated with stressed employees. Most costs aren’t as obvious as a new computer to replace the one that succumbed to office rage, but they’re definitely worth being aware of.
An article by Insurance Business America explains why being “often or very often burned out” is a bad thing. “Common characteristics of burnout include absenteeism, low morale, diminished commitment, dissatisfaction with job performance, and frequent job-hopping.”
Simon Sinek adds to this by explaining that stress releases the hormone cortisol in humans. This is the fight or flight hormone that is really helpful when we need to run away from Indominus Rex, but it has side effects. A high level of cortisol for long periods of time is bad for the immune system so we get sick more easily.
So basically, a burned-out workforce leads to disinterested employees that get sick and miss work too often if they don’t quit the job altogether.
So ya, not great outcomes. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do about it as an employer. Keep reading to see how you can help your employees run at full steam.
1. Talk to Your People
I hate to say it, but you might be part of the problem. A big contributor to employee stress is a weak or negative relationship with management. Building and strengthening this relationship starts with you. Be humble enough to understand what employees are dealing with, then help them with it.
We’ll talk more about what Dale Carnegie has to say on the subject; but for now we can just say that it’s really important to see things from the other person’s perspective.
By proving to your people that you’re not just a manager, but a caring leader who has their back, they’ll feel safer, their stress levels will drop, and they’ll be more productive. You’ll also be able to identify other stressors in the workplace that you can get rid of.
2. Create a Safe Workplace Environment
We have an entire article on making the workplace feel safe, but it’s worth revisiting here.
What’s the biggest fear in the workplace? Getting fired, right? Everyone makes mistakes, but if a mistake could put you next in line for the chopping block, that fear becomes debilitating.
Ironically, if the fear of job loss is in your company, employees will be too worried about keeping their job to actually do it well. It comes back to that cortisol issue we mentioned earlier.
Business is inherently risky. There are endless external factors that make the business world a dangerous place. Every employee doing their job well is what keeps a company safe, but they can’t do that with the fear of failure constantly overhead.
Make it safe to fail at your company. Failure are the birthplace of growth, so trying new things should be fiercely encouraged. If you can remove the stress that comes from the fear of being fired, you make room for innovation.
3. Trust Your Employees and Be Flexible
The work you give your employees is hopefully very important to them, but it’s also a means to an end. They may love their job, but they also love their family and life after work. Give them the flexibility to do what they really care about, and they’ll do better work for you.
A big part of this is trusting your employees. People rise to the expectations given to them; so give your employees a lot of flexibility with the expectation that they’ll do what needs to be done. As you do, they’ll up their game and rise to that expectation.
Again referencing Simon Sinek. He tells a story about Bob Chapman who runs a manufacturing company.
Chapman realized that while managers could take breaks whenever they wanted, factory workers had to wait for a whistle. While managers could get supplies from a cupboard as they needed them, factory workers needed permission to get supplies from a locked cage.
Chapman took the risk to trust his employees. He got rid of the whistles, and he removed the locks from the cages. “Morale went up, theft went down because when we trust people, they rise to the occasion. When we distrust people, they rise to the occasion.”
4. Help with Work/Life Balance
Everyone hopes for satisfying work-life, and a happy home-life. A key to achieving that is a good balance between the two. No matter how good your work and home life can be individually, conflict between them can make both miserable.
You can boost your office morale and employee productivity by helping employees keep that balance. Here are a few ways to do that.
- Have a “Just go” policy. If your family needs you, just go.
- Invite families to work activities.
- Set an example of working efficiently during the day, then going home.
- Offer PTO and encourage its use.
- Leave time off and weekends alone.
5. Check your Expectations
Stress comes when there’s a dissonance between expectations or requirements and resources or ability.
With that in mind, it’s obvious that to reduce stress you can either provide more resources or check your expectations.
We don’t suggest by any means that you have low expectations for your employees. Expectations should be high. As we’ve mentioned, employees rise or fall to the expectations given… to an extent.
While stretching expectations help your people innovate, there is always a breaking point.
Evaluate your employee expectations and see if they’re reasonable, then adjust them if you need to. By finding that sweet spot of stretching but possible expectations, you’ll maximize your employees’ potential without having to deal with stress or burnout.
6. Give Employees a Voice
Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” You go to great lengths to hire awesome employees; don’t rob yourself of their value by not being open to their thoughts and ideas.
Along that same vein, the book “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin emphasizes the importance of leadership both from the top and bottom. This two-way communication allows ground-level employees to express concerns and solutions up the chain as easily as direction is given from the top.
If the chain of upward communication is broken, employees will feel exactly how you’re treating them, undervalued and disregarded. They won’t be able to give you the feedback you need in order to understand their situation and needs. This is a perfect recipe for stress, frustration, and inefficiency.
An excellent employee without the chance to express their ideas is nothing more than an expensive average employee.
7. Employee Recognition
There are a lot of ways that you can give employee recognition. It can be public or private, but the principles are the same.
Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a classic that gives hundreds of actionable insights on how to apply this tip. It’s definitely worth the read for any human being who ever talks to other human beings.
In the book, there’s a phrase that Carnegie repeats endlessly to drive his point home. “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Doing this has the added benefit of “giving the other person a fine reputation to live up to.”
When people feel like they and their accomplishments are valued, morale goes up, and the stressful tasks that seemed impossible to tackle become opportunities for recognition.
So basically, stress in the workplace is a drain on productivity and can be a poison to your workforce, but there’s a lot you can do about it. By balancing what is required of your employees with their resources and abilities you can avoid a lot of this stress.
As stress fades you’ll find that your employees are more happy and productive, and your stress-related costs diminish.
The presence or absence of stress is an important part of a company culture and HR program. Check out the rest of our blog for more information on how you can improve your company’s HR efforts.