The Hidden Costs of Workplace Stress

by Terri Williams on December 16, 2013
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American author Jane Wagner once wrote, “Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.” Although Wagner — who pens jokes for her partner, comedian Lily Tomlin — meant to be humorous, the truth is that workplace stress wreaks havoc on the lives of many business owners and their employees.

A study by the American Psychological Association shows that 75 percent of employees consider their jobs to be a major source of stress. More than half say stress negatively affects their productivity levels. Almost half admit that they aren’t taking vacations as a result of work-related stress. In addition, half are thinking about seeking a new, less-stressful position.

The bottom line: Stress costs U.S. businesses roughly $300 billion a year as a result of absenteeism, reduced productivity levels, and employee turnover, the APA says. Companies are also paying higher medical and insurance fees. For example, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that job stress prompts longer periods of employee disability than other types of work-related injuries or illnesses do.

How to Better Manage Stress

The American Institute of Stress identifies four main causes of workplace anxiety: workload (46 percent), conflicts with other people (28 percent), juggling personal and professional time (20 percent), and lack of job security (6 percent).

Here’s how business owners and managers can help to reduce employees’ stress in the workplace:

  • Be transparent. Keep employees informed about changes within the organization, which helps to reduce the stress and uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on. Clearly define job duties, responsibilities, and expectations.
  • Don’t overload yourself or employees with work. As a general gauge, if the work cannot be completed within normal working hours, it’s too much. Beyond that, when people do a job well, praise them for it. Offer incentives and rewards and opportunities for career development.
  • Ask employees for input. Provide opportunities for your staff to participate in the decision-making process — especially when it involves scheduling, workload, and rules.
  • Cultivate a positive work environment. Create ways for employees to socialize, but don’t force socialization. Never tolerate workplace bullying or harassment.

HelpGuide.com provides some additional recommendations for reducing workplace stress:

  • Recognize the warning signs. Indicators of workplace stress include headaches and muscle tension, social withdrawal, trouble concentrating, sleeplessness, fatigue, irritability, depression, and apathy.
  • Take care of your body. Exercise typically helps to reduce stress by increasing your energy level, improving your mood, and honing your focus. Eating small meals throughout the day can help you maintain consistent blood-sugar levels and avoid mood swings. Getting plenty of sleep can help you maintain emotional balance, too.
  • Manage your time by prioritizing tasks. Do the most important jobs first. Divide large projects into smaller, more manageable steps. Try to delegate work whenever possible. (This should not be confused with dumping all of your work onto others, which could increase their stress levels.)
  • Manage your emotions and protect the feelings of others. Be aware of your verbal and nonverbal communication (hand gestures, facial expressions). Master the art of compromise when you have disagreements. Learn to laugh, but not at the mistakes of others.
  • Change the way you think. Don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself or others; no one is perfect. Declutter your workspace. Make to-do lists. Focus on what you can control vs. stressing over matters that you can’t.

Terri Williams is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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