A growing portion of workers say that they experience routine work-related stress – a whopping 83% in the United States. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can, in turn, lead to poor health and even injury in the workplace. Approximately one million workers in the United States miss work each day due to stress.
Additionally, many studies have shown that stress can lead to physical ailments as well. Stress acts as warning to the brain which sends the body into a fight or flight response – quickening heat rate, deepening respiration and tensing the muscles. While this biological programming is meant to keep individuals safe during short spurts of time, when the body is in a constant state of alarm it can cause serious issues down the line. Job related stress can cause employees to have mood and sleep problems, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease.
According to NIOSH, the early warning signs of job stress include:
Obviously, this is a problem for both employees and employers alike. Stressed out employees are more likely to be less productive, call in sick, and use short term disability benefits than their less stressed colleagues. Workplace stress is also linked to higher accident and injury rates and higher turnover rates, which can add to companies’ administrative costs.
The stakes are high for employers to cultivate a work environment that is as stress-free as possible. Some estimates state the stressful work environments cost employers $300-500 billion in lost productivity annually. In order to reduce stress and prevent profit loss, employers need to understand what situations cause workplace stress in the first place.
According to ComPsych, some of the most cited causes of workplace stress are:
The first step to reduce work-related stress is to identify potential or existing sources. Asking for employee feedback, looking at call-out rates, and hosting discussions are all potential ways of getting a pulse on the team. Once employers can pinpoint which of the stressors are present in their workplace, how can that be managed effectively?
The conversation around mental health in the workplace has only increased since the pandemic. Communication and openness are essential to making employees feel connected, involved, and valued in the workplace. Mental health and well-being initiatives should be implemented as a strategic priority and communicated clearly across all levels of the organization. Those in leadership positions should speak openly about mental health issues, personal experiences, and initiatives.
Often managers are one of the first points of contact for employees who are experiencing high levels of stress in the workplace. Managers should be trained to be attentive and supportive in these situations. Employees should feel comfortable enough to come to these managers directly to discuss responsibilities, workload, or any issues that they are experiencing. Supportive managers should also stress the importance of taking time away to encourage better work-life balance, whether that is PTO or short breaks during the day.
Many workers experienced a radical shift in their work schedules during the pandemic, and it is something they’d like to keep. For some, remote and hybrid hours are feasible and highly desirable but there are other ways to introduce non-traditional schedules in the workplace. For example, allowing employees to choose between multiple start times (ie. 7am-3pm or 9am-5pm), can help employees who have various personal responsibilities early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Workplace stress effects both mental and physical health. Not being able to access healthcare services that are affordable and readily available is a stressor onto itself. Providing benefit packages, hosting wellness services, and providing annual exams can reduce the amount of stress on the employee while also monitoring changes in health before they become detrimental.