How To Handle Stress At Work

Is employee stress becoming an issue in your workplace?

There are lots of potential stressors inthe workplace, and a whopping  80% of workers feel job-related stress. Additionally, nearly half of them need help to learn how to manage it, and 26% report feeling burnout altogether.

An environment where stress is the norm and employee wellbeing is put on the back-burner is never good for business. Stressful situations can cause long-lasting emotional and physical effects, and chronic stress is associated with negative thoughts and health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and even a weaker immune system. It’s easy to see how this can spiral in your work environment if it’s not addressed, and worse still – without proper stress management, it can spread to other co-workers.

If it feels like people are at the end of their rope, lacking motivation and patience, and if your management team is not sure how to handle stress at work, read this guide.

We will explain what you can do to reduce stress within your business.

Know the Common Causes of Workplace Stress

First, let’s look at the underlying causes of your employees’ stress. Understanding common sources of job stress will help you nip potential issues in the bud.

Here are some of the most common causes of work-related stress:

  • The demands of the job – When employees feel like too much is being asked of them, or they lack work/life balance they start to feel under pressure. 
  • Company culture – Your company’s culture may also be a catalyst for stress. For example, a highly-competitive environment may be encouraging for one employee who’s used to perfectionism, but it may overwhelm another. There’s also more natural stressors to a workday that most workers experience, like long commutes, poor time management, and a hectic home life.
  • Poor management practices Poor management practices like micromanagement, unclear directions, and lack of support sit highly in employees’ causes of stress.
  • Change management – In all areas of our lives, change can be stressful. That’s why it’s especially important to handle changes in your organization in a way that reduces the negative impact on staff.

Once you understand which situations can spark cortisol levels (stress hormone) in your employees, you can become better at recognizing the signs of stress and connecting them to recent developments in your company. 

Recognize the Signs of Stress Around You

To effectively reduce workplace stress in your company, you need to familiarize yourself with the signs of a stressed employee.

stressed employee

High levels of stress can take many forms and these are some of the most common warning signs employees may exhibit:

  • The employee has become more irritable – If your employee suddenly becomes less patient and more snappy, it could be a tell-tale sign that they’re feeling stressed.
  • Looking tired – It’s no secret that stress can harm one’s health. An employee who is feeling stressed out may look visibly more tired. When they seem unmotivated and sluggish, it’s a sign worth noting.
  • Taking more time off – When an employee is stressed, they may begin taking more time off as they try to distance themselves from work and the pressure associated with it. If sick days become more frequent, know that it could be a result of stress.
  • Spending more time at work – On the opposite end of the spectrum, spending more time at work can also be an indication that your employee is under severe pressure. Coming in early and staying late can be a sign that the person is struggling with their workload.

Now that you understand the way stress may manifest itself in your workforce, let’s learn how to manage and proactively prevent it.

Make Sure Your Team Has Clear Goals

Lack of clear objectives is the top source of stress for employees of all ages and genders. It’s something that employees feel strongly about. 

But why does it cause so much stress for people?

It all comes down to having a direction. From frontline employees to managers, people need a clear understanding of where to focus their efforts. 

You can’t reach an end-goal if you don’t know what it looks like. 

Without clear goals, employees may invest time in wrong activities or miss completing tasks on time. Consequently, lack of clarity results in wasted resources, out-of-sync team, and overall lower business results.

On top of that, employees may lose morale and become stressed because they feel like they’re not performing well in their roles. 

So how do you turn it around?

Creating an effective goal framework starts from the top-down. Senior management should work out the overall goals for the business and direct mid-management with that information. Likewise, mid-management should pass instructions based on those goals down to their team. 

In that case, everybody knows what they’re working towards and, as a result, they perform much more effectively. Managers are happy because their teams are meeting crucial KPIs, and the team is happy because they know their work is making a difference.

Be Approachable

To be an effective leader, you need to be approachable. Management roles require much more than just telling people what to do and how to do it. It’s time to think less like a manager and be a leader. 

Being an approachable manager strengthens your working relationships and plays a crucial role in reducing the stress levels of your team.

Being open and accessible breaks down the barrier between you and your direct reports—it dissolves the ‘us and them’ divide.

approachable manager

If your team doesn’t look at you as someone to turn to when they’re stressed or worried, the roots of the problem grow deeper—resulting in much bigger issues down the line.

To become a more approachable leader start small—even seemingly insignificant gestures like saying “hello” to people in the morning can make a big difference.

Try to make your team feel at ease and create direct lines of communication. Let them know that you’re available to talk if they need to.

Also, be genuine in your efforts—if you ask somebody how they are, actually listen to their answer and show them you’re indeed interested in the answer.

By doing this, you will create an environment where problems can be raised, opinions can be voiced, and employee stress can be eliminated before it even begins.

Offer Flexible Work Schedules But Avoid Irregular Ones

Trying to juggle personal life and work responsibilities can cause a great deal of stress for your employees. You can reduce stress for your team by accommodating their work schedule requirements where possible.

However, you should know the difference between a flexible work schedule and an irregular one. While the former can be a fantastic morale boost for your team, the latter can cause additional stress.

Flexible Work Schedules

A flexible work schedule may be something as simple as letting an employee start and finish an hour early to work around their childcare obligations. Or, it could mean allowing employees to work a compressed workweek, where they work four longer days in exchange for an extra day off. 

Finding a solution that works for both parties is the key. When putting flexible working arrangements in place, leverage a scheduling software—it will make it easy to track when staff are working and pay them correctly.

Irregular Work Schedules

Using an irregular work schedule, on the other hand, is likely to have a negative impact on employee well-being. 

Irregular schedules occur when a business provides its employees with sporadic work hours, which results in poor work-life balance, unstable income, and understandably, more stress.

Irregular schedules where employees are always on the call prevent you from respecting their off-time and prevent them from having routines in their personal life. 

Finally, this type of work organization can make staff feel like the situation is out of their hands, and that’s a surefire way to create tension and stress within the workforce.

Work On Relationships With Your Team

The saying goes: “Employees leave managers, not companies”—which it’s true. Managers make up a large part of an employee’s experience at a company.

Three out of four employees think their boss is the most stressful part of the job, and 65% of them would take a new boss over a pay rise. 

If you don’t want to be a part of that statistic, build genuine relationships with your employees. Get to know your staff on a one-to-one basis. Knowing your team will not only reduce their stress levels, but it may help you understand their actions and be better at managing them.

team relationships

Consider implementing an open-office policy and encourage your team to feel comfortable to talk to you.

Nurturing an environment where your team feels valued and listened-to will result in improved job satisfaction and increased productivity.

Actively Practice Workplace Recognition

Sometimes it feels we pay more attention to things that go wrong once than good things that happen every day. To avoid this at work and focus on positive events, actively practice workplace recognition.

Feeling undervalued is a source of stress for employees. Turning up to work every day, putting in maximum effort, but never feeling like you’re appreciated is understandably disheartening.

If an employee gets to this point and nothing happens to remedy the situation, they will find themselves on the road towards handing in their resignation and finding a new job. When they are a good employee, that’s the last thing you want.

While there are various methods for employee recognition, the main agenda is the same—let people know they’re doing a great job.

You may want to do it publicly with all employees present. In that case, hold a meeting and praise those who have gone above and beyond for the business over the past month.

Or, you can do it privately. 

Never underestimate the power of pulling an employee to one side and letting them know that you appreciate all of the hard work they’ve been putting in recently. It may seem like a small gesture to you, but it can make all the difference to them.

Address Workplace Conflicts In A Positive Way

With so many people having an input into your business, there might be situations where tensions flare.

While you have no control over conflicts among employees occurring, you must deal with them the right way and minimize any stress they cause. 

Conflict is, naturally, a stress-inducing situation and everybody handles it differently. You should be addressing and positively resolving disputes. Once a resolution has been found, the team should be able to move on with no resentment or lingering tension attached to the situation.

How to do this?

It’s essential to embrace the situation. Trying to sweep it under the rug and act like it hasn’t happened will only create a toxic environment. Accept conflict for what it is and find a way to work through it.

Communication is critical in conflicts, so create a safe place where all involved parties can voice their opinions. Be sure to listen to all opposing viewpoints before talking things through.

talking through conflict

When you’re not actively involved in the situation, work as a mediator to ensure both sides can express themselves, be heard, and then try to find an agreement somewhere in the middle.

Once all is said and done, draw a line under it and move on. Doing this will ensure the issue ends there, and everybody can get back to doing what they do best.

Cut Down On Meetings

Could this meeting be covered in an email?”—this is a question that’s worth asking yourself when considering scheduling a team meeting

When it comes to brainstorming ideas with your team or giving feedback on a recent project, physical (or video) meetings are an excellent way to communicate.

However, there are many occasions when a simple email would suffice—saving your team from meeting-caused stress.

There are three main reasons why meetings are so stressful for employees.

The first is a fear of public speaking as not everybody is a natural performer. Some people prefer to stay out of the spotlight and simply get their work done. For those people, one of the most stress-inducing elements of meetings can be having to talk or present in front of a larger group of people. 

The second stressor is the potential for technology problems to occur. 9 out of 10 office workers experience technology-related stress in meetings.

It’s always an unpleasant situation. You’ve created an engaging presentation and then the application is no longer responding. Add the awkward silence that happens while you desperately try to regain control of the situation and your cortisol levels flare-up.

Finally, meetings take staff away from their actual work. If someone has a big deadline looming, sitting in a meeting room for 2 hours is bound to induce stress—especially if the meeting isn’t about anything critical.

Reduce meeting-related stress by ensuring all meetings are absolutely necessary and be considerate of your team’s current workload before calling one.

Avoid Unrealistic Deadlines

While it’s important that your staff are productive, it’s even more important you’re giving them enough time to hit deadlines.

In a TimesJobs survey of over 1,100 people, it was found that 7 out of 10 employees think their bosses have unrealistic expectations.

unrealistic expectations

To avoid this pitfall and reduce stress for your employees, take a more analytical approach when setting project deadlines.

Start by looking at what the project requires. Can it be broken down into smaller tasks, rather than one long project? If so, how long do you think those smaller sub-projects will take to complete?

If possible, find a benchmark for realistic deadlines based on similar tasks done before. This will give you a rough idea of how long the project will take if nothing goes wrong. But as an experienced manager, you know that sometimes things do go wrong.

A good tip is to anticipate some issues arising and factor in time to deal with them. Call on previous experience; think about things that have gone wrong on similar projects in the past. That way, you will finish on time even with some setbacks. 

And if everything ends up going smoothly—that’s even better! You will finish the project before the deadline and your team will look fantastic in the eyes of senior management. 

Promote Employee Wellness

If you want to take care of your employee’s wellbeing, you need to actively promote it within your company.

Sadly, a lot of businesses don’t do this, which is a huge shame because happy and healthy workers are a lot more productive and a lot less stressed.

Companies that successfully improve their staff’s wellbeing are those who make it a priority.

You can improve the wellbeing of your employees by providing solutions directly (such as healthy snacks or ergonomic chairs), educating them (sharing the information about a local gym or benefits of taking breaks), and promoting a health culture (setting an example). 

Here are some other ideas for promoting employee wellness:

  • Use ‘walking meetings’ to give your team the opportunity to move around and get outside.
  • Provide more opportunities for staff to take care of their wellbeing, whether it’s a ‘wellness hour’ each week, or setting up a relaxation room.
  • Allow staff to talk about their mental health, if they wish, by bringing in an on-site counselor or life coach.
  • Push physical health-related initiatives to encourage employees to exercise or eat healthily.

These methods are a part of a PEP approach, as advocated by Quantum Workplace, where you work on three fronts: Providing, Educating and Promoting. 

Stress Is Contagious—But So Is Wellbeing

Reducing stress in the workplace won’t be an overnight success, but if you make it a priority, it will have lasting positive effects on your team.

Promoting a culture of open communication where people can voice their opinions and be heard is a great place to start. Make the change today and watch as your business transforms into a productive, and stress-free environment.