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Three steps toward minimizing workplace stress
A guide to decreasing workplace stress and increasing employee productivity.
Stress in the workplace can sidetrack employees and prevent them from doing their best. Concerns about workload, job security, or work/life balance can all take a toll, causing symptoms such as tension and irritability, inability to make decisions or concentrate, feelings of powerlessness and anger, physical ailments, and risky behaviors such as increased use of alcohol and drugs or even violence.
Left unresolved, workplace stress can be a threat to both your employees' well-being and the productivity of your business. Accordingly, stress management should be an important part of your overall health and wellness efforts. While your individual solutions will be unique to your business, you can use the following simple steps as a guide to help reduce the pressure and increase productivity:
Step 1: Acknowledge the problem
Recognize when workplace stress is hampering morale and productivity, and publicly commit to addressing the problem. While they are only rough indicators of job stress, objective measures such as absenteeism, illness and turnover rates, or performance problems can be examined to gauge the presence and scope of stress in your workplace.
"Candid responses are essential, and employees must be assured that they will not be penalized for feedback."
Step 2: Brainstorm interventions
Meet with your managers and employees at all levels to identify causes of stress. These may be unrealistic deadlines, lack of training or management support, or being understaffed. Candid responses are essential, and employees must be assured that they will not be penalized for feedback.
Ask your employees what they suggest to improve the situations that trigger stress. If necessary, hire an outside party to conduct the session so your employees can speak freely. Let them know that feedback is an ongoing process, and you want to keep the lines of communication open.
Certain problems, such as a hostile work environment, may be pervasive in the organization and require company-wide interventions. Other problems, such as excessive workload, may exist only in some departments and thus require more narrow solutions — perhaps a redesign of the way a job is performed.
Still, other problems may be specific to certain employees and resistant to any kind of organizational change, calling instead for stress management or employee assistance interventions. Some interventions might be implemented rapidly (for example, improved communication, stress management training), but others may require additional time to put into place (for example, redesign of a manufacturing process).
Step 3: Implement creative solutions
As you implement programs, you need to get creative. Consider adjusting work hours, shifting employees internally, or hiring part-time help for busy periods. Give extra breaks during the day to allow your employees to stretch and refocus, and make it fun.
Your break room is also a great spot to foster relaxation and personal interaction. If your business allows, make it an engaging place to be—with fun lighting, comfortable seating, or even a billiards, ping pong, or foosball table. These features can foster teamwork and creative thought. If it's solitude your employees seek, offer them a quiet space to rest and recharge.
You can also host informal, company-sponsored opportunities for employees to bond and socialize outside of work, such as a pizza party, bowling night, or trip to a sporting event.
Finally, remember that in some cases workplace stress may be part of a more serious psychological issue or disorder. This is not something to ignore or assume will get better on its own. Employees who are struggling should be handled with care and referred to an employee assistance program for professional assistance.
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