Job-related stress costs U.S. businesses hundreds of billions of dollars a year. It has a negative impact on attendance, retention, productivity and medical costs. People with high-stress jobs visit their physicians more than 25 percent more often – and more than half of 550 million working days lost annually from absenteeism are stress related.

Unanticipated absences amount to more than $600 per employee per year – or more than $3.5 million in the case of large employers.

Recognize what stress can do to an employee.

In a recent study by the British Heart Foundation, two in every five employees said stress had affected their health by causing them to smoke and drink more, eat poorly and forego exercise. They attributed their stress to work-related factors including long hours, intense demands, difficult managers and co-workers, and poor working conditions.

  • Employees who are sick or worn out are not only less productive, they are also more likely to file personal injury claims against their companies.
  • Labor laws mandate that you maintain a healthy working environment. This includes protecting your employees’ mental health.

Stress affects everyone differently and can result in serious emotional and physical problems.

  • High stress leads to depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviors and substance abuse.
  • Other signs include headaches, fatigue, insomnia, stomach disorders, hypertension and high blood pressure.

Take steps to reduce employee stress.

You can combat employee stress by demonstrating healthy behavior yourself and by making some simple workplace changes.

  • Lead by example. If you demonstrate stress-relieving behavior throughout the day, your employees will feel less guilty about doing the same thing. Work reasonable hours. The old adage that a person should “arrive before your boss and don’t leave until they do” often remains conventional workplace wisdom. If the culture you create is one of long hours and little work/life balance, you become a major factor in your employees’ stress levels.
  • Promote positive thinking. Continuous negative thoughts drive stress levels up, while maintaining a positive attitude has the opposite effect. Encourage your employees to avoid gossip and people who always complain. A positive mindset has been shown to increase life spans, lower rates of depression, build coping skills during hardship, and even provide greater resistance to the common cold.
  • Encourage breaks. People are most productive if they work in 90-minute spurts punctuated by 20-minute breaks. You will get better results from your team if you allow them regular periods of rest. This is another area in which you can lead by example. For instance, try scheduling walking breaks during lengthy meetings. Make moderate rest and exercise part of everyone’s daily routine.
  • Improve the physical environment. Excess clutter and disorganization contribute to stress and make it more difficult to get work done. Encourage employees to keep their work spaces clean. Keep noise levels as low as possible. Use plants, flowers, artwork and other décor to make the overall environment as pleasant as possible. Create spaces for quiet time and meditation. This provides employees a refuge from technology and day-to-day chaos. Give them a place where they can take a few minutes to regroup and refresh their thoughts.
  • Sometimes employees just need a chance to share what they are thinking and express their concerns. They may be hesitant to talk to their bosses because they do not want to create the impression they cannot handle their jobs. Alleviate these worries by having an open-door policy. Practice active listening. Focus each conversation on finding solutions to stress-inducing problems. If your employees know they can be honest and that you will listen compassionately and non-judgmentally, stress should become less of an issue.
  • Promote team bonding. Employees spend a lot of time with their co-workers. The more they enjoy one another, the happier they will be. Consider setting aside 30 or 60 minutes a week for employees to come together in a common area and play a game as a morale booster. When teams are strong, there is greater accountability to each other, better communication and enhanced trust.

The BrainWorks team is passionate about your success as you grow and develop your workforce. We will help you realize the highest possible return on your talent investment, whether it is in recruitment, retention or building your workplace culture and employment brand. Contact us today to learn more.

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