11 Ways to Manage Workplace Stress
Published By Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP
October 24, 2023
In our fast-paced world, stress is a pervasive problem in professional settings across all industries. According to the American Institute of Stress, approximately 83 percent of U.S. workers report feeling stressed about their jobs. (We think the other 17 percent are their bosses). This near-universal issue calls for more ways to manage stress in the workplace.
Why Should We Care About Workplace Stress?
Stress is not just about statistics. It deeply affects the well-being of individuals as well as the health of organizations. It can sink employees’ quality of life and its impact ripples across organizational productivity, teamwork, overall morale, and the bottom line. That’s why managing workplace stress is vital for all of us. It is best approached as a collaborative effort, paving the way for a more supportive, efficient, and mentally healthy work environment.
The Ripple Effect: How Workplace Stress Impacts the Individual
“If you are a normal mammal, a stressful situation triggers release of glucocorticoids, which redistributes energy to muscles to help you fight or flee… Keep activating the stress-response for long enough and you get sick; it’s as if the body spends so much time on responding to chronic emergencies that it no longer has the time, or the building blocks in terms of metabolic raw materials, to do any building.”
–Robert M. Sapolsky, renowned stress researcher and author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
While short bursts of stress might have been adaptive in early human history, helping us escape predators or secure food, the nature of stress has morphed into a chronic, incessant pressure that can have disastrous effects on our health.
How Workplace Stress Affects Us
- Cardiovascular Problems: Prolonged stress is a leading cause high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease.
- Digestive Issues: Irritable bowel syndrome and gastritis, both stress induced conditions, can be brought on or made worse by chronic stress.
- Immune System: Chronic stress weakens the immune system, causing less natural resistance to infections.
- Anxiety and Depression: Ongoing stress serves as a fertile ground for mental health issues such as generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
- Cognitive Impairments: Concentration, memory, and decision-making skills can all be impacted by chronic stress
- Emotional Exhaustion: Chronic stress often leads to burnout, which is characterized by extreme emotional and physical fatigue.
The Ripple Effect: Impact on the Organization
It’s essential to recognize that the toll of stress extends beyond individual suffering to have significant repercussions on organizational culture and performance. As Sapolsky suggests, this is not just about individual biology but a collective issue that requires concerted interventions.
How Workplace Stress Affects Companies
- Productivity: A stressed workforce can drastically decrease productivity levels, which impacts revenue and increases expenses.
- Job Satisfaction: High stress levels contribute to low job satisfaction, which can lead to a higher turnover rate. There is also lost revenue and time while finding and training a replacement… who may (or may not) work out. Turnover of an employee can mean losing 1.5 to 2 times their salary for employers.
- Team Cohesion: Elevated stress levels can compromise effective communication and collaboration within teams. Stress can be like a disease, spreading from one to another.
- Leaky Bottom Line: Increased absenteeism, higher levels of presentism, more workplace accidents, turnover and more… workplace stress is expenses. In fact, it costs companies over $300 billion every year.
How Company Culture Impacts Mental Health
“In one survey, 61 percent of employees said that workplace stress had made them sick and seven percent said they had actually been hospitalized. Job stress… may cause 120,000 excess deaths each year. In China, 1 million people a year may be dying from overwork. People are literally dying for a paycheck. And it needs to stop. Workplace environments in many organizations not only promote disease but also, I am going to argue, kill people. The workplace is a health hazard for too many employees because of stress, no work-life balance, and workplace bullying and abuse.”
–Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Dying for a Paycheck
Recognizing the significance of organizational culture is vital to manage workplace stress successfully. The environment in which individuals work significantly impacts their stress levels, mental well-being, physical health, and overall satisfaction.
In his book Dying for a Paycheck, Pfeffer asserts that workplace environments, rife with stress, zero work-life balance, and bullying and abuse, don’t just promote disease — they can lead to the untimely deaths for their employees.
That’s why company culture is not just a matter of staff happiness or corporate branding. It is a matter of life and death, both literally and figuratively. It affects not only the employees, but also the long-term sustainability of the organization itself.
What is Positive Organizational Culture?
A positive organizational culture is an environment that promotes employees’ psychological well-being and job satisfaction, while aligning with the organization’s core values and objectives.
This culture provides an inclusive atmosphere, fostering a sense of belonging and respect for all employees, irrespective of their background. It invites open communication, encouraging open dialogue between staff and management, with transparency in decision-making processes. It recognizes its employees for their contributions, regularly acknowledging and rewarding efforts, which can significantly boost morale and decrease stress. Work-life balance is a priority, because allowing flexible work schedules and acknowledging the importance of time off for personal well-being.
Paying attention to inclusiveness, open communication, the recognition of employees and a healthy work-life balance pays dividends both materially and psychologically. You can expect a reduction in stress levels, for one. A positive work environment can mitigate the impact of stress, offering avenues for relaxation and emotional support. Second, you should see increased productivity in a positive company culture. Studies show that employees who are mentally well are more productive and engaged in their work.
A supportive organizational culture will create higher levels of job satisfaction, reducing turnover rates and associated costs. Finally, creating a positive company culture can help break down the stigma associated with discussing mental health, making it easier for employees to seek help when needed.
The Collective Responsibility
The shaping of organizational culture is a collective responsibility. It requires conscious efforts from both management and employees to cultivate an environment conducive to mental well-being. As Pfeffer’s insights suggest, failing to address this crucial aspect can have severe, often irreversible consequences for everyone involved.
The journey to managing workplace stress often starts with good intentions but can become challenging due to the complexity of human behavior and organizational dynamics. However, a well-defined set of actionable strategies can provide a roadmap for both employers and employees, making this journey both feasible and measurable.
11 Ways to Manage Stress in the Workplace
A Guide for Employees & Employers
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Implementing an EAP can provide employees with valuable resources for managing stress, including counseling services and legal advice. For employees who already have access to one, it can be a great way to start helping yourself overcome workplace stress.
- Mindfulness Training: Mindfulness exercises are one tool therapists use to help clients reduce stress. Employees can access therapists that can help them learn mindfulness techniques while. On the employer side, you can encourage practices that focus on mindfulness and meditation. Companies like Google and Apple have found these programs beneficial for employee well- being.
- Transparency and Open Dialogue: If your company offers regular town hall meetings and open forums, take advantage of them. They can serve as platforms to discuss stressors and possible solutions openly. Employers who don’t already offer these options should consider implementing them, as they can show that workplace stress is taken seriously.
- Flexible Working Arrangements: There is currently a groundswell of opposition to full-time office hours. The commute, the cost of gas, the feeling of being trapped and having to ask to be excused for doctor’s appointments… sometimes, the office can feel like a jail. Employes who allow options like remote work or flex hours can give employees the autonomy to balance their work and personal lives, thereby reducing stress. If your employer doesn’t offer a hybrid schedule, you can ask for one… or look for a job that does.
- Time Management: Employees can prioritize the most important tasks and set realistic goals for getting them done. For their part, employers can assist by assigning higher priorities to those tasks that need to be done right away, and staying calm when things happen (as they invariably do) that get in the way of deadlines. After all, work is a team effort.
- Physical Activity: Regular exercise has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels. Even a short lunch break walk can make a difference. Employers can help by providing access to gym equipment or a sheltered track for running and walking. Or, partner with a local gym to provide free or discounted memberships for your employees. It might just result in a healthier workforce, fewer sick days, and perhaps even fewer medical claims as well.
- Seek Professional Help: Employees should not hesitate to consult psychologists or counselors. Many companies offer free or subsidized mental health services; and, if they don’t, there are plenty of mental health counselors and qualified therapists, either near you or online, who can help. Employers should encourage employees to seek help when needed, and prioritize mental health appointments employees in the same way they would appointments for physical health needs.
- Peer Support: Engage with co-workers for emotional support. A problem shared is often a problem halved. Companies can encourage employees to bond with team members through providing break rooms for meals and talking with co-workers, regular company-sponsored breakfasts or lunches, and even task forces to tackle problems or simply throw an office party.
- Workshops and Training: Employers can organize – and employees can participate in –workshops focusing on stress management and mental well-being. Look to local mental health service providers to host these events, they will often offer their time and expertise for free for the exposure and awareness it provides. Provide a free lunch, and your employees will be even more appreciative.
- Regular Check-ins: Talking it out really does reduce stress… and there is no better person to talk to about workplace stress than employees’ direct supervisors. After all, they are the ones who are most likely to help solve issues. Both parties should commit to regular check-ins to discuss workload, expectations, and any emerging stressors.
- Promoting Mental Health Literacy: New ways of managing stress can be discovered at any moment. Not only that, but keeping an issue top-of-mind can positively impact daily decisions that will help in the fight against workplace stress. Shared educational resources, like articles, podcasts, or even book recommendations, can help everyone stay informed and proactive in managing stress.
Managing Workplace Stress: It Takes a Village
The road to managing workplace stress is a two-way street. It requires active involvement and commitment from both employers and employees. By implementing these actionable strategies, we can create a work environment that not only acknowledges the importance of mental health but also takes concrete steps to improve it.
The strategies listed here are designed to be comprehensive, but they are not one-size-fits-all. It’s important for each organization and individual to adapt them according to their unique needs and challenges. By taking a collaborative approach, we can foster a work environment that is not just productive, but also mentally and emotionally healthy.
- Batson, J. (2021). Workplace Stress – the American Institute of Stress. The American Institute of Stress.
- Can stress spread like a virus? What animals tell us. (2022). Washington Post.
- Pfeffer, J. (2018). Dying for a paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance – and What We Can Do About It. New York, NY Harpercollins.
- Smith, J. (n.d.). Here’s why workplace stress is costing employers $300 billion a year. Business Insider.
- The True Cost of Employee Burnout – WHOOP Unite. (n.d.). www.whoopunite.com.