Identifying and Helping Stressed Out Employees
Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Physical Therapy, and the authority on how to crush your inner critic so that you can live a life of purpose, fulfillment and True Success™. She’s America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist with over 100 national media interviews. She writes for Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but her medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.
How are your employees doing? Chances are, they may be feeling a bit stressed.
The workplace has been identified as the number one source of stress for American workers, and that can cause a host of problems, including:
- Reduced productivity
- Increased healthcare utilization
- More accidents and bad decisions
- Relationship strain
All of which can be costly. In fact, stress costs U.S. businesses over $300 billion annually. What’s more, an employer has to pay 50% more health costs for stressed employees.
Sadly, 33% of Americans say they typically feel stressed out during the workday.
While some stress can be a positive thing (for example, it can help motivate employees to get a project completed), long-term stress tends to be negative.
How do you know if your team members are stressed out?
Stress can present itself in different ways for different people. Examples include-
- Decreased productivity
- Increased/decreased appetite (may notice weight change on Zoom calls)
- Social withdrawal (not speaking as much during meetings)
- Lateness (arriving at calls late, tardiness in completing projects)
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Problems sleeping
- Making more mistakes
- More sick days
- Low self-esteem
- RED FLAG: Any thoughts of wanting to not be here, such as “Maybe I should just jump off a bridge.” Do not take even “jokes” about such sentiments lightly.
What are the common sources of stress for employees?
In this pandemic era, stress is abundant. Some of the stress can come from outside the office (relationships, health, COVID restrictions, children e-learning…). And some can come from within the job.
One study found the top five sources of stress for employees are: low wages or salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement or growth, too heavy a workload, unrealistic job expectations and long hours.
According to the World Health Organization, workplace stress is more likely in situations when employees are asked to do things that surpass their knowledge, capabilities and coping skills, especially when they do not perceive enough support from others (such as supervisors or peers).
Other research finds unrealistic manager expectations are a top stressor, along with heavy workloads and impending deadlines.
What can you do?
When it comes to helping your team members manage their stress, one size does not fit all. Here are 11 strategies to consider.
1. Encourage and facilitate helpful stress management tools
Exercise is a great way to decrease stress. Encourage your team to get moving. One way to do this is to have walking meetings. Get away from the screens, recommend your team get some earphones and have calls, especially one-on-one calls, while walking. Providing discounts to a local gym or online workout services can also be helpful.
Meditation can be another useful tool to manage stress. Perhaps you hire a meditation expert to give your employees a lesson on how to meditate or encourage that they download free apps.
Learning additional skills to manage stress can be helpful. One tactic I have found to be extremely helpful is to provide 3-5 minute audio and/or video trainings that address different aspects of stress management using a cognitive-behavioral framework. These can include how to be assertive, how to silence your inner critic and how to better manage your time.
One small business where I consult decided to block off a 30-minute period of time three times per week when team members could choose what stress management tool they would use. How would your team react to that?
2. Encourage the use of “real” vacation
One study found 55 percent of Americans did not use all of their paid vacation time. And even when people are on vacation (i.e., not officially at work), many are still checking emails and voicemails.
Why is this important? In countries that encourage employees to take vacations, those team members are more productive, which can help enhance your company’s bottom line.
So, encourage that your team takes “real” vacation time when they are discouraged from working and even not permitted to engage in work projects or correspondence.
3. Make your employees feel valued
When people feel valued, their stress levels decrease. Take consistent steps to recognize your team in ways that feel positive to them. Want some hints on specific ways to recognize your employees? Check out Top 5 Ways to Make Employees Feel Appreciated.
4. Give employees some control
Helplessness is a state where a person feels like they have no control. It can cause more stress, depression, and/or anxiety and can cause them to give up. To counter this, help your team members gain a sense of control over at least some aspects of their work.
Communication is key. Have regular meetings (they need not be formal) with your employees. Get a sense of how they are doing. If things are stressful, problem-solve together how you can make them better, such as prioritization or delegation. And when changes are coming, be as open as you can with your employees. Fears about job security can cause much stress.
5. Encourage moderate challenges
I call this “Goldilocks’ Principle.” Remember Goldilocks in the three bears’ house? With each entity she tried, it was the moderate one that was just right (porridge temperature, mattress firmness…). Well, it turns out that goals for employees are also optimal at the moderate level. Giving your team too much work can make them feel overwhelmed. If the task is too easy (translate: Boring!), it can also cause stress. Look for projects that are moderately challenging to your team and that allows them to apply their core strengths.
6. Set for success
Provide training, have regular check-ins with team members, create a mentorship program. These can help your employees not feel overwhelmed or in over their heads.
7. Provide clarity
Confusion can cause stress. Examples of confusion in the workplace can include not fully understanding job responsibilities or priorities, a lack of feedback, lack of leadership or lack of clarity of roles. Provide leadership on these topics and don’t stop there. Just because you think you clearly communicated it, there may still be confusion. Ask questions to ensure they are fully armed with the knowledge you share with them.
8. Be flexible
Letting your team have flexibility in certain areas can also help boost a sense of control as well as feeling valued. One way to do that is to offer adaptable working hours. A big place I see this recently is with e-learning. Many parents with school-aged children are feeling overwhelmed with the added role of “teacher.” Providing affability can help reduce stress and boost engagement.
9. Elicit feedback
Ask your employees how things are going. Then really listen—request ideas on how to make things even better. And make sure you actually do something with the information. Asking for feedback and doing nothing with it can cause more stress. Even if you cannot implement all the ideas, be open about why you can’t do something and come up with an alternative.
10. Create a positive culture
When I am coaching people looking for a new job, I highly recommend they prioritize the culture of the potential workplace. Negative people, fear and/or unhealthy competition can generate stress. Creating a positive work culture where employees are engaged will help boost your bottom line. This includes components like optimizing communication, having an environment open to feedback, positive strategies to resolving conflict and heightened employee engagement.
11. Be a good model
No matter what you say or what policies you have written out, the real determining factor of how your team will take advantage of any of these strategies is… you. They are watching you. Do you take a break during the day when there are no calls, and you are meditating or getting a workout in? Are you taking a “real” vacation? It is vital that you lead by example.
Try any of these strategies to help curb stress and boost your bottom line in your business. Then let us know how they worked out. We are here to support and empower you!