How to Help Employees Manage Stress (And Handle It Yourself)

Stress is a natural result of running a successful, growing business, but it is important for managers and company leadership to take a proactive approach to handling workplace stress among their employees. Unhealthy levels of stress can have a negative impact on your workplace culture and cause problems among your staff.
 
Taking the steps to support your employees through stress and caring for your own stress levels allows you to prevent problems before they occur and create a healthy environment of sustainable work-life balance.

 

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The negative impacts of stress at work

While small amounts of positive stress can motivate employees to meet deadlines and produce high-quality work, too much stress has direct negative impacts on individual employees and your company as a whole. Some of the negative effects of stressed employees include:

 

Decreased productivity

When employees are stressed, this can cause them to be more anxious and less focused during the course of their daily duties. High levels of stress can cause employees to be less productive and feel hopeless in catching up on their work or managing challenges.

 

Employee burnout

If employees deal with high stress levels sustained over a long period of time, they can eventually experience burnout, where they are no longer able to enjoy their work or provide the same level of quality that they previously produced. Burnout can eventually lead to employees quitting, disrupted workflows and breakdowns in communication.

 

Read more: Mitigating Employee Burnout: Action Items for Managers

 

High turnover

When stress becomes part of your workplace culture, it can cause high turnover rates across the entire organization. If your company doesn’t offer outlets for dealing with stress, it can make employees feel that finding a new job is the only solution. This lack of stability can cause other employees to quit and make new hires feel less invested in building a long-term future at a company.

 

Toxic workplace culture

Stressed employees may be less understanding and polite when communicating with customers and coworkers, causing toxic interpersonal relationships and patterns of disrespect between employees. Highly stressed employees may feel too overwhelmed to help others, causing isolation and reducing the possibility of effective teamwork.

 

Poor reputation as an employer

If you have stressed employees, this can reflect poorly on your company’s leadership and management techniques. Unhappy employees who are unable to cope with their workplace environment can share their experiences with their professional circle, spreading a negative reputation for your company as one that doesn’t care about its employee’s wellbeing.

 

Common causes of stress in the workplace

Stress can come from different sources in the workplace, including stressful interactions with customers and clients or changes within the way a company runs. Some of these stress factors that can impact your employees are:

 

  • Excessive workload
  • Low compensation
  • Unrealistic standards
  • Limited opportunities
  • Peer issues
  • Personal factors
  • Lack of support

Signs of employee stress

Leaders need to be able to recognize the symptoms of stress to adequately address it. Paying attention to employee behaviors can help you address stress problems and provide your team with the support they need. Stress can manifest in many different ways:

 

  • Increased irritability
  • Withdrawn behavior and taking more sick days
  • Exhaustion and tiredness
  • Working longer hours and skipping breaks
  • Missing deadlines and productivity expectations

Benefits of reducing stress on your team

When you first notice signs of stress, it is important to take steps to help them. As their manager, you can have a direct impact on their wellbeing and their work habits. Taking the initiative to reduce stress on your team has a range of benefits including:

 

  • Opening channels of communication
  • Building community
  • Increasing longevity
  • Creating a culture of trust
  • Boosting self-awareness

Related: Managing Stress in the Workplace: An Introduction

 

Strategies for helping employees manage stress

Follow these steps to support your employees and develop a healthy culture of stress-management among your team:

 

Survey your team about stress

To properly facilitate stress-management, you first need to understand the general stress levels on your team and the main causes of stress for your employees. Conduct anonymous surveys asking your current staff to rank their general stress levels and how different causes of stress impact them. This will help you get a holistic picture of what makes your team feel stressed so that you can be strategic when offering support.

 

Offer mental health support

Give your employees the tools to manage their own mental health and non-professional stress factors by providing and explaining mental health resources. Access to counseling through an Employee Assistance Program or dedicated employees in the human resources department can teach your employees coping mechanisms to release stress on their own. Mental health resources can also help you prevent small stressors from growing by addressing their root cause early on.

 

Provide wellness benefits

In addition to caring for your employee’s mental health, providing physical wellness resources is a great strategy for reducing stress. Exercise is a great way to help people clear their minds, so making it easily accessible in the workplace can encourage employees to utilize physical activity as a way to release stress. Yoga classes, walking clubs and in-office massage can help your employees relax by moving and caring for their physical bodies. Free or discounted gym memberships are another way to give employees a healthy outlet for everyday stresses.

 

Related: Wellness at Work Programs: Three Ideas You Can Execute

 

Improve compensation

One of the greatest stressors employees can have is their compensation. If people are worried about being able to make ends meet, they are likely to feel stressed throughout the workday and become frustrated with their employer. Research cost of living and make sure your compensation reflects your employee’s financial needs. If you’re unable to budget for higher salaries, consider offering better time off policies or insurance to improve compensation in other ways.

 

Schedule breaks

Plan breaks to ensure that your team does not overwork themselves. High-achieving employees may work through breaks to meet expectations and then suffer from burnout after a short period of time. Scheduling group outings and mandatory breaks gives your employees a structured way to relax from the demands of their job and get a healthy amount of social and recreational stimulation.

 

Create an overtime policy

Determine how much overtime you will allow employees to take and be clear that you do not expect employees to work additional hours. Employees who take lots of overtime may get exhausted, exasperating current stress and preventing them from practicing self care to release stress. Have a clear policy and hold employees to it, using other methods to handle increasing workloads.

 

Be flexible

Be understanding and flexible when it comes to your company’s workplace environment and expectations to eliminate unnecessary stresses. Allowing employees to work from home or work flexible hours can make it easier for them to manage their personal and professional responsibilities, eliminating the stresses of a strict work environment.

 

Host regular check-ins

Don’t assume that you’ve resolved stress issues by changing company policies. Check in with your employees during one-on-ones and ask them about their challenges and stresses. This creates a dialogue and shows your employees that they can trust you to help them with their workplace problems. It also gives you a chance to offer advice and mentorship or direct them to the appropriate resources.

 

Tips for handling stress as a leader

To be a good support system for others, you should first take care of your own stress levels. Use these tips to balance stress in your life and lead others by demonstrating effective stress management techniques:

 

Set boundaries

As a leader, you may feel responsible for everything that happens on your team. It is important to set boundaries to prevent your work life from impacting your personal life and causing more stress. Schedule time for yourself and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks or ask for help. Being honest about your own ability to handle stress models honesty and accountability on your team and shows them what healthy stress control looks like.

 

Practice mindfulness

Try meditating and practicing mindfulness by focusing on being in the moment during each task at work. Worrying about a long list of responsibilities can distract you from completing your best work and make you feel unnecessary stress. 

 

Find a confidant

Seek out a mentor or colleague that you can trust for advice on stressful issues at work. Trying to handle stress on your own can cause you to feel more distresses, especially when you are in a managerial position. Having someone you can confide in allows you to express your worries and develop a plan for addressing them.

 

Participate in team activities

Once you plan wellness events for your team, take the time and effort to attend them yourself. Even if you feel you are too busy, attending wellness events shows employees that you believe in the programs you coordinate and lets you enjoy scheduled relaxation, allowing you to feel rejuvenated when you return to work.

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