Stress at work: How to handle and prevent workplace stress

handle stress at work
Stress among employees is common, and unavoidable, in our modern society. If an employee experiences stress at work, it can have serious consequences for his or her life – and it is bad for business too in terms of absence and high employee turnover. Learn more about stress at work here.

In this blog post about stress at work we look at the following:

  1. What is workplace stress?
  2. Stress symptoms
  3. What causes employee stress?
  4. How do you handle and prevent work-related stress?

1) What is workplace stress?

WHO defines work-related stress as “the response you may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.”

Beneath you can read a list of symptoms of stress and also how you can handle and prevent it. However, before diving into the signals of stress, let’s look at the consequences of stress at work.

The costs of employee stress

Stress costs for companies are estimated to be 300 billion USD in USA – yearly! In addition, the direct cost of people on sick leave related to workplace stress is 13,965,691 USD in USA. Consequently, as the COVID-19 outbreak has a high impact on society, industry organizations in Denmark, for example, expect an increase in stress levels. As a result, stress can be very costly for companies, especially these days. 

The impact of stress on employees’ well-being:

An employee with stress is at risk of developing anxiety or depression, and long-term high stress levels seriously damage employees’ personal lives, ability to work (concentration, sick days, safety hazards) and increase the risk of health issues.

2) Stress symptoms: Spot signals of stress at work

handle stress at work and prevent workplace stress

There are many different symptoms of stress, but according to HelpGuide, a non-profit awareness site about mental health, the following are the top five warning signs of stress you want to look for:

  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating

As you may conclude already, these symptoms are not easy spotting. That’s why it is important communicating and interacting with each other to listen to how people are doing. Often, employees don’t realize themselves they are experiencing this before it’s too late. A safe environment at work can help people speak openly about this, where a performance culture, in contrast, can cause people to ignore these symptoms.

Employee Experience Guide

3) What causes employee stress?

Here are some of the most common causes of stress at work.

  • Long hours
  • Heavy workload
  • Changes within the organization
  • Tight deadlines
  • Changes to duties
  • Job insecurity

Recent research also reveals the consequence of being too engaged at work, concluding that a highly engaged employee can also develop stress. Even if he or she is committed, happy, and ambitious – which is mostly considered a good thing – he or she can become his or her own worst enemy. Being committed, energetic, and ambitious can make you a ‘workaholic’ and overload you. In fact, 1 of 5 highly engaged employees are at risk of burnout.

4) How do you handle and prevent stress at work? 

Stress at your workplace can mostly be prevented, if you focus on working with people’s wellbeing, development, and employee experience – not just their performance. In addition, you will also see a higher productivity and better profits if your employees are happy, thriving, and developing themselves at work. Everybody wins like this. 

Here are some tips on how to prevent stress at work you need to focus on; company culture, communication, organization of work, and the management of employees. But first, you need to understand that people react differently.

Understand the kind of stress employees may be experiencing 

People are different. Some are more resilient to stress than others, and we cope differently.  

A very good example from this is how COVID-19 is causing stress among employees, but that is a quite different situation. Not only is our society completely changed, businesses are at risk too due to the economic recession COVID-19 caused.  

Think of how an employee has to carry the burden of uncertainty and impact on health in private, all while running faster at work to prevent the company going under. What happens to the employee outside work, may be quite invisible at work since is doesn’t necessarily have something to do with work. 

Company culture

As mentioned before, to prevent stress-levels from spiking you should look at your culture. A culture and an environment that is inclusive benefits, social interaction, learning, and development and a greater employee experience. When people thrive, they grow positively. A good idea is also to embrace a culture, where failure is accepted. That’s how we can improve – daring to do something and then working on doing it better.

Communication

This is very much related to culture as well. You need to focus on creating social interaction in your company, so employees feel safer sharing their problems and feel safe about talking to you as a manager about this. However, an important part of communication is listening. Make sure you catch-up with your employees on a regular basis, ask and listen to how they are doing.

Organization of work and a supportive management

Even the greatest companies to work for can be busy – especially these days. In our modern society we tend to increase speed and intensity of our work. Roles, expectations, and demands needs to be clear and concise. In order to prevent workplace stress you need to focus on how your employees develop. They have a passion for something, they want to improve competencies in something, they want to learn. That is one of the reasons we in Learningbank help companies with our Learning Lifecycle Platform.

Last of all, employees require support, in order to prevent stress. You want to help them do their work the best way possible and then trust them to do it. Help them prioritize and don’t micro-manage. Micro-mangement can cause lack of trust and prevent employees from unleashing their best in what they do. Be sure to analyze what employees think in your organization and look for places where you as a leader can improve. Working with employee surveys in your digital HR tool will do the trick.

Employee Experience Guide