How can employers reduce stress in the workplace?

Key takeaways

  • Stress at work is a huge issue, with 83% of US workers suffering from work-related stress
  • In the UK, in 2021/22, 51% of all work-related ill health and 55% of all sick days were due to work stress, depression or anxiety
  • The main reasons for stress at work include excessive workload, poor relationships with colleagues and managers, job security and struggling with work life balance
  • Employers can put initiatives in place to help support employees to feel less stressed
  • Some of the main ways employers can help to reduce stress include offering more flexible working, introducing remote work options, training managers, and reviewing staff workloads

Stress is a real issue in the workplace, with employees reporting that they feel stressed for a wide range of reasons, including salary, workload, long hours, job insecurity and working environment. While there are lots of things that workers can do to reduce their own stress levels, there are also plenty of initiatives that employers can put in place around stress management in the workplace. Keep reading to find out some practical things you can do. 

How common are stressed employees?

In a word: very. In fact, stress at work is one of the most common reasons for employee absences. That’s not surprising when you realize that 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress. An enormous 25% of employees say that their job is the number one reason for stress in their lives, and 76% of workers have stated that stress from work spills over into other areas of their lives, affecting their personal relationships.

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive found that 914,000 workers were affected by work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2021/2022. In the same year, 51% of all work-related ill health and 55% of all sick days were due to work stress, depression or anxiety.

Clearly, stress at work is a global problem. But other than wanting your employees to live happier, less stressful lives, what does it have to do with you as a business owner?

With employees taking so much time off due to workplace stress, it could be directly impacting your business’ bottom line. 

When your employees are stressed, it’s likely that they’re not as focused at work as they should be. In fact, research has shown that 50% of employees aren’t engaged at work due to stress, resulting in reduced productivity. Businesses then have to recoup the costs associated with sick days and a lack of productivity at work, meaning that businesses spend 75% of a worker’s annual salary to cover the cost of lost productivity and employee absences.

Investing in workplace stress management, then, can help to reduce the number of sick days your staff are taking, as well as helping to ensure that employees are more engaged and present when they are working. But, according to in-depth research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), of organizations that are taking steps to tackle stress at work, just 52% think that they’re effective in doing so. That means there’s a lot still to be done when it comes to managing stress in the workplace.

What causes stress at work?

No two employees are the same, and everyone has different contributing factors to their work-related stress. However, there are a few common themes. The CIPD 2022 Health and Wellbeing at Work survey found that the main causes of stress in the workplace were:

  • Excessive workloads
  • Management style
  • Relationship or family issues at home
  • Personal illness and health issues
  • Poor work life balance due to homeworking

Zippia research paints a similar picture. It found that the main causes of work-related stress in the US are:

  • Workload (for 39% of employees)
  • Interpersonal issues at work (for 31% of employees)
  • Struggling with work life balance (for 19% of employees)
  • Job security (for 6% of employees)

There are also other factors that affect how stressed employees feel at work. A major one is the relationship between employees and their managers, with the Zippia research showing that 80% of workers say that a change in leadership affects their stress levels. If you bring in a new management team, or pass employees from manager to manager, it’s important to be aware of how that could affect the worker.

Ineffective communication at work is another contributing factor to overall stress levels, with a whopping 80% of US employees stating they’re stressed due to poor communication in their workplace. 

The working environment can also play a huge part in stress levels. From poor relationships with colleagues to being unable to concentrate because of a noisy workplace, there are multiple factors that could be contributing to how stressed an employee feels. These can vary from person to person, so it’s important to check in with your staff to find out what’s affecting them, and what adjustments might help reduce their stress levels.

How can you tell if you have stressed employees?

It can be useful to know what the warning signs are, so you can help employees manage stress before it becomes a bigger problem, for both their wellbeing and your business.

You may may notice:

  • Declining performance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Employees spending more time at work
  • Employees not using their vacation allowance
  • Conflict with managers or colleagues
  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Arriving late to work
  • Taking more days off sick
  • Lack of interest in work
  • Fatigue or lethargy

Symptoms can vary from person to person, and as well as issues with concentration and interpersonal relationships at work, some employees may experience physical symptoms or a change in their behavior. The main thing to look out for is any behavior that’s out of the ordinary for that particular employee, including any combination of the factors listed above.

Tips for stress management in the workplace

You almost definitely have staff who are struggling with stress at work. So, what can you do about it? Here are our top suggestions for how to manage stress in the workplace.

1. Salary benchmarking

Are you really paying your staff what they deserve to be paid? As a major cause of workplace stress comes down to money, it’s a good idea to see if there are any ways you can support that.

A starting point is to conduct salary benchmarking. Research and collate information on pay packages for each of the roles within your organization, to find out how much staff in comparable roles are being paid at other businesses. You can then use that information to adjust salaries within your own company, to ensure that everyone is being paid fairly.

2. Give as much autonomy as possible

When employees feel like they don’t have any control over the work they do, they’re more likely to experience stress – and they’re also less likely to be productive at work. Research by Gallup found that employees are 43% less likely to have high levels of burnout when they’re allowed to decide what tasks they do, how much time they spend on each task, and when they do them.

Allowing employees to work independently and take control of their own schedule can have a big impact on stress levels – but it can be nerve-wracking to introduce, as an employer.

One solution to ensure a smoother transition is to implement more job shadowing in your workplace. A member of staff can closely follow a more senior employee doing a task, asking them questions and getting regular feedback from them. Then, you’ll be better able to assess when they’re ready to work independently. They’ll be much more comfortable, and you’ll be more confident in their abilities – and it avoids employees feeling like they don’t have enough support, which can also be a cause of stress for some.

3. Training for managers

Managers play a key role in reducing stress for their direct reports – but they need support, too. Ensure that managers know how to spot the signs of stress, how to help their employees, and how to have sensitive conversations, with training. 

Managers are usually the first port of call if an employee is feeling stressed, so it’s important that they know what to do, and that they develop a supportive culture within their team where staff feel like they’re able to seek support from them. 

The CIPD has identified five key behaviors managers should have, which roughly equate to how managers can reduce stress in the workplace. These are:

  • Being open, fair and consistent
  • Handling conflict and people management issues
  • Providing knowledge, clarity and guidance
  • Building and sustaining relationships
  • Supporting development

Investing in training and support to ensure your managers are able to provide a good experience for employees in each of these areas will go a long way to reducing stress in your workplace. Just remember that managers are employees too, and that they need the same level of support to ensure that they don’t face burnout themselves.

4. Encourage employees to take care of their health

Encouraging your employees to take care of their health is one key way you can help to reduce stress in their lives. Create a work culture where it’s okay to get up from your desk every so often to walk around, grab a coffee, or chat with colleagues. 

You could introduce walking meetings, encourage employees to get out of the office at lunchtime, or launch a fitness challenge to incentivize employees to get out there and exercise on their lunch breaks. And yes, encouraging employees to take a lunch break is important too!

Could you introduce a weekly yoga class at work, give your employees free counseling sessions, or offer free access to meditation apps? Wellness schemes are a great idea to help employees manage stress – but usually only when they’re run in conjunction with things that address the root cause of stress at work, like reducing workloads and offering flexible working.

5. Identify the causes of stress

When it comes to how employers can reduce stress in the workplace, prevention is definitely better than cure. If you can minimize the underlying reasons behind employees’ stress and stop it in its tracks, then you’ll be in a great position.

A stress risk assessment can help you to understand what stressors your employees are facing. This is a formal process of examining what factors in a workplace could cause stress, and then taking action to reduce those risks.

However, a stress risk assessment involves speaking directly to employees. Not all employees will be willing to speak openly about their experiences of stress at work, but often, these are the people that you need to hear from most. Another good way of getting insights from everyone is to send out a regular pulse survey, where employees can answer questions anonymously. 

That means you can identify the key areas for improvement. The main stressors could be far-ranging, such as:

  • The demands of their job or an excessive workload
  • Their working environment
  • How much control they have over their job
  • Whether they get the right amount of support and supervision

Once you have a better understanding of why your employees are suffering from work-related stress, you can start working on a stress management plan for the workplace, putting initiatives and policies into place that actually address the problem.

6. Keep on top of workloads

Having too much work is a major cause of workplace stress. Employees may have too much on their plate because there are unrealistic expectations around how much they can do in a day, week or month. This may be down to a poor understanding of what their job actually entails, and managers loading them with too many time-consuming tasks. 

Alternatively, perhaps your business is understaffed and some employees have to take on additional tasks that don’t strictly sit within their remit.

Or maybe there’s a hustle culture within your workplace; an attitude that doing more and working longer hours is better. Perhaps workers feel like they won’t be in with a chance for promotion if they don’t take on more work and responsibilities than they can handle.

In all of these cases, the best solution is for managers to have a regular check in with their direct reports to get a picture of their workload, help them to understand which tasks are the highest priority, and whether any action needs to be taken by the manager or the business. 

It could be that some employees feel overwhelmed due to a long list of tasks, and they would benefit from training in time management techniques. Other staff may need someone to help support them with low-priority tasks, in which case you could look at hiring an additional member of staff or a virtual assistant to take some work off their plate. The solution will be different for each member of the team, but regular one to one meetings will ensure no one’s issues slip under the radar.

7. Offer flexible working hours

Flexible working can help employees to create a better work life balance, which in turn, can help to reduce stress levels. 

Think about whether you really need all staff to work a set 9-5 shift pattern. Could you instead implement core hours, say 10-12 and 2-4, during which time all employees need to be available, but they’re free to choose their own working hours outside of that time? Or could you allow them to work whenever suits them? 

Every employee is different, so it’s a good idea to speak to each individual to find out what would suit them best. The impact of flexible working could be great, with one study finding that 97% of people said having a more flexible job would have a “huge” or “positive” impact on their quality of life.

8. Remote working arrangements

As with flexible working hours, many employees feel that their stress levels would be reduced if they could choose to work from home rather than coming into their office (or other place of work) every day. 

The average US worker spends 52.2 minutes per day commuting to and from work – a total of nearly 4.5 hours over the course of a week, which is a significant source of stress for some workers. In fact, 71% of employees in one piece of research said they wanted to work from home in order to reduce their commute-related stress.

The benefits of remote working extend far beyond the stress of a long commute, though. Respondents to the survey also said that working from home would:

  • Reduce stress and improve productivity by reducing distractions during the day (75%)
  • Reduce interruptions from colleagues (74%)
  • Mean they can avoid office politics (65%)
  • Ensure they have a quieter work environment (60%)
  • Give them a more comfortable work environment (52%)

For employees with a sensitivity to sound, a quieter work environment can be paramount in helping to reduce work-related stress. Consider whether you can offer remote working as an option for employees – and remember that some staff may still prefer to come into work every day, so they should be given the option of what works best for them.

9. Improve the work environment

If you can’t offer remote working, consider what improvements can be made to the working environment to reduce stress. In fact, even if you do offer remote working, you should still look to improve the working environment as – remember – some employees may still prefer to come into work on a daily basis or for part of the week.

Offer quiet spaces within your workplace where people can retreat to if they find an open-plan space too noisy. As well as supporting workers with noise sensitivities, this is also beneficial when members of staff have confidential calls to make, or want to have private conversations with their colleagues or direct reports.

You could also consider offering toolkits to help employees make their workplace more comfortable. Give out ‘do not disturb’ signs for them to put on their desks when they need focused time, encourage the use of calendars to block out ‘red time’ where no meetings can be scheduled, and offer earplugs for noise sensitivity to help drown out distractions.

10. Help employees become more fulfilled at work

Employees who feel like they have a purpose at work, and can see clear ways to progress in their career, are more likely to be happier and more productive. 

A performance review framework, where employees can have an open and honest conversation about how they’re doing, their aspirations, and your expectations, can help to reduce any stress they feel about future uncertainties. Setting goals gives them something to work towards each quarter, and setting stretch goals with ambitious targets can help to give them a sense of achievement and accomplishment at work. 

Supporting your team with training courses and personal development time to improve their skills will help to make them feel more satisfied at work, as well as improving their trust levels. Investing in your people makes good sense – they’re your biggest asset, after all.

11. Improve team relationships

Many employees feel stressed at work because interpersonal relationships are poor. We’re not saying that a couple of team building events will fix everything, but it is important to invest in building those relationships, and opening up channels of communication so that everyone feels supported in their workplace.

Setting up regular one to one meetings is important for managers and their direct reports, but it’s also important that team members have the opportunity to give feedback to their colleagues. You could set up a weekly or monthly forum where colleagues can offer praise, support and constructive criticism, or set up an online platform where people can send messages and virtual high fives for a job well done. 

It’s vital that you create a culture where everyone feels able to be open and honest at work. That means you need to put a framework in place for solving conflicts. Disagreements will happen at work – but the way you deal with it can make a world of difference as to whether employees come away feeling supported or stressed.

Employees get stressed. That, sadly, seems to be a fact of life. But if you’re asking yourself “how to reduce stress in the workplace?”, you’re already on track to help. There isn’t one single solution for managing workplaces stress, and it takes both time and effort from employers and employees to identify the causes of stress, and to find the right solutions that work for everyone.

From training your leaders to spot signs of stress to investing in flexible working practices, there are lots of options for managing stress in the workplace. An open, honest dialogue with your workers will help you to come up with the best ways to reduce stress in the workplace – and the time spent doing so will be worth it, for happier, more productive employees with a better work life balance.

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