Workplace stress is often defined as the negative or harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, and needs of the employee. With everything that has occurred over the events of the past year and a half, workplace stress is on the rise. A 2020 Gallup study found that 57% of employees in the U.S. and Canada reported daily stress, the highest worldwide.

This article is the first in a series surrounding stress in the workplace and best practices to help employees manage it. In future articles, we’ll dig deeper into the various workplace stress sources we’ve found to have the most impact on workplace stress, and how employers can address those specific stressors.

When stress becomes too high, it can begin to have an impact on the employees’ health, whether it be physical (fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, insomnia, etc.), mental (depression, anxiety, irritability, etc.), or behavioral (aggression, mood swings, disinterest, underperformance, etc.). In addition to the health risks, working in stressful environments can also increase the likelihood of workplace accidents. It is important to begin managing stress early before it reaches this point. 

A NIOSH study identified organizational characteristics often associated with both healthy, low-stress work and high levels of productivity. Some examples of those characteristics include:

  • Recognition of employees for good work performance
  • Opportunities for career development
  • Organizational culture that values the individual worker
  • Management actions that are consistent with the organization’s values

Since reducing job stress would be beneficial to both the employer and the employees, it should be a top priority for organizations. Stress Management training, including an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), is often an inexpensive and easy-to-implement tool to help employees gain knowledge and skills for managing their individual stress. The disadvantage to this method is that the benefits can often be short-lived, and it doesn’t uncover the deeper cause of stress that may exist within the organization. 

Another option is to identify the root cause of the employees’ stress and make organizational changes based on those findings. Often, an outside expert or consultant can be brought in to make sure this approach is effective. Communication with employees is important throughout this process, as we have found that this helps to maximize employee participation and increase interest.

The first step is to identify the problem, whether through an employee assessment, via group discussions, or by one-on-one interviews with key employees. Taking a benchmark assessment of the current stress in the organization can be a helpful start to measuring the success of the program over time. 

Once the data is collected and problem identified, the next step is to design and implement interventions. Depending on the size of the organization, this can be done via informal discussions or through a formal process. The key is to target the source(s) of stress, prioritize the intervention strategies, and communicate the results to employees. In future articles, we’ll digger further into some of the top sources of stress with more specific ways to manage them.

Lastly, it’s important to evaluate the interventions that were implemented. These evaluations should be based on the same types of data collected in the first step to guarantee the most accurate and valuable results. Timing of evaluation should be based on the amount of time the intervention took to implement. Typically, measuring progress quarterly can provide valuable insights into whether the interventions are effective and moving in the right direction.

Moving forward, preventing workplace stress as much as possible is key. Proven benefits of measuring and monitoring organizational stressors include reduced symptoms of poor physical and mental health, greater job satisfaction, increased work engagement, reduced cost to the employer, and more. Furthermore, when workers experience a motivating, rather than damaging level of stress – they tend to remain more committed to the organization and perform at a higher level.