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Distracted, beat, frazzled, exhausted, uncertain, nervous.

Regardless of how it manifests itself, stress is lurking around every corner of your office.

And it’s on the rise.

A recent Korn Ferry Institute survey revealed nearly two-thirds of the workforce says they are more anxious at work than they were five years ago.

And research shows that when employees are stressed:

  • 41% feel less productive
  • 33% feel less engaged
  • 15% are more likely to look for a new job
  • 14% are absent more often

So if you think your employees being stressed is their problem, you better think again. Stress triggers serious threats to business outcomes in all industries. Both quality and efficiency suffer when workers operate in a state of relentless unrest.

Customers receive inferior products and service, companies make less money, and the stressed worker? Well, they’re as frustrated as anyone.

Stress Costs Time and Money

The American Institute of Stress has found that 83% of US employees suffer from work-related anxiety. Data suggests this strain leads to 120,000 deaths every year and is incredibly costly to organizations. US businesses lose up to $300 billion each year as a result of accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, legal expenses, medical and insurance costs and workers’ compensation awards.

Where is the pressure coming from?

According to one poll, employees' top sources of workplace stress are:

crazy typing
  • Unpredictability
  • Workplace environment
  • Deadlines
  • Others’ safety
  • Length of workday/workweek

But not all stress comes from work. Much of what employees fret about during the workday stems from outside relationships and situations. For example, about 3-quarters of the US population admits to worrying about their finances at work. In addition, employees are concerned about a whole slew of things from their personal lives: aging parents, marital conflicts, personal or family illnesses, their children, and the list goes on.

Dealing With Stress in the Workplace

Ignoring stress won’t do anything. In fact, it often makes matters worse. And with many sources for worry coming from outside the office, it’s impossible to eliminate completely.

As business professionals, most of our education and training teaches us that when an obstacle arises, we should get to the root of the problem and fix it. But what do you do when the problem isn’t yours to fix?

In these cases, getting to the crux of the stressor is beyond your control and fixing it isn’t an option. Organizations are left with one daunting option: to deal with it.

How To Reduce Workplace Anxiety

Fortunately (or not), many of the things employees worry about stem from issues at work that you can impact. And all that other stuff? Well, there are several steps you can take to help relieve the burdens your workers face from outside sources.

Here are a few strategies to consider:

  1. Involve employees in goal setting. Most people love a little surprise now and then. But the office isn’t the place for Blair Witch Project level unpredictability. Include employees when setting goals and in plans to achieve them. This will reduce the number of unpredictable spooks and avoid the anxiety that comes as a result.
  2. Look for opportunities to make employees’ lives easier. For example, you may not be able to control their personal spending habits, but you probably have more influence on employees’ financial well-being than you realize. You can support them by providing benefits and perks that promote financial wellness. Retirement savings accounts, employee discount programs and financial consulting are all great options that help workers spend wisely, save responsibly and achieve their personal financial goals.
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  3. Promote honesty with an open-door policy. Too often managers claim to have an open-door policy but lack a culture where employees feel safe speaking out. Show employees you’re genuine by seeking their input and giving it careful consideration. Knowing they can go to their superiors with questions and concerns without the fear of being chastised for their honesty will give employees the confidence to speak up. In turn, they’ll skip the jitters that come from silently carrying those burdens.
  4. Give employees control. The World Health Organization says employees are less likely to be stressed when they have control over their work and the way they do it. On top of giving workers freedom to carry out their tasks in the ways they feel are best, employers can help reduce anxiety by allowing flexible scheduling whenever possible. A recent report found that one in six US workers provides care to an elderly person or a child more than 20 hours per week. For these caregivers, a flexible schedule makes it possible for them to get their work done without the angst that comes from neglecting family responsibilities.
  5. Provide stress-relieving sanctuaries. This could look different for every organization. Our company, Access Development, sits along a river with a walking trail alongside it. Employees are encouraged to get out and utilize the walkway often to de-stress and get some fresh air. We also have basketball hoops and ping-pong tables workers take advantage of when they need a break from the computer screen or feel the urge for some movement. Other organizations offer quiet rooms with diffusing essential oils where employees can escape for a moment of relaxation.
  6. Talk about mental health. Stress affects everyone in their own way. For many it leads to periodic anxiety and depression. Others deal with chronic mental health issues that are amplified by uneasiness. Research shows that when it comes to mental illness, talking about it helps as much (or more) than anything. Providing a supportive environment where they can talk and learn coping strategies helps employees recognize they aren’t alone in their struggles.

It's a Team Effort

teamwork-makes-the-dream-work-1You couldn’t do what you do without your employees. And vice versa. To reach optimal levels of productivity, they need you and your support. Sometimes this means providing them with physical tools (desk, phone, customer database, etc.) and adequate training to do their job. Other times it’s more about providing the emotional tools they need to take care of themselves. Because when they’re troubled, regardless of the cause, nobody wins.

You’ll never eliminate stress completely. (Though, that’s a billion-dollar business idea if you DO find a way to do it!) But being aware of the pressures your workers face and taking initiative to ease their anxiety is a great place to start.

For more ideas you may want to read: These Benefits Can Help Your Employees Reduce Financial Stress and How to Turn Your Workplace Into a Stress-Free Zone.

Written by: Michelle White


Michelle White has held a variety of roles with Access over the last 14 years that focus on both member and employee loyalty. She loves books, the piano and peach snow cones.

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