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11 Tips for Preventing Work Stress

Many guides focus on reducing stress after it develops, but it’s important to take preventive measures. Stopping stress before it starts may increase productivity and make it easier for employees to get along. Learn more about work stress and find out what you can do to reduce the stress levels in your workplace.

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What is stress?

Stress is the body’s physical and emotional response to change. When you’re confronted with a sudden change, your brain signals your adrenal glands to release cortisol and other “stress hormones.” As these chemicals flood your system, your heart beats faster, your breathing rate increases and your muscles tense up. You may even start sweating.

Positive and negative effects of work stress

Although many people think of stress as something negative, it can have positive effects. For example, if your team is working on a major project, positive stress may motivate them to do their best work. Stressful situations may even make team members more committed or inspire them to be more creative.

If stress becomes unmanageable, however, it may have the following negative effects:

  • Burnout. An employee with burnout is in a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion. Heavy workloads, minimal autonomy, long work hours and a lack of work-life balance also increase the risk of work-related burnout.
  • Difficulty retaining employees. Whether you’re a department manager or company recruiter, work stress may affect your ability to attract and retain quality team members. For example, stressed-out employees may leave your company in search of other opportunities.
  • Absenteeism. If employees feel stressed at work, they may need to take a break to improve their mental health or take more vacation time than usual.
  • Safety issues. Stress can affect an employee’s ability to communicate effectively, so high levels of work stress may create safety issues. For example, if a stressed-out employee forgets to warn a teammate about a potential hazard, the other employee might sustain a job-related injury.
  • Reduced productivity. Work stress may also affect the productivity of a single employee or an entire department. If team members are busy dealing with stress, they may not be able to focus on reconciling accounts or entering customer data.
  • Increased costs. The other effects of stress may lead to increased costs for employers. For example, if employees leave your company due to stress, it will cost money to hire new employees. It also costs money to cover for absent employees or make up for low rates of productivity.

11 tips for preventing stress in the workplace

The good news is that you don’t have to let work stress derail your operations. It’s not possible to eliminate negative stressors completely, but you can take steps to prevent it. Follow these tips to reduce the amount of work-related stress within your company.

1. Update employee work areas as needed

Team members may feel frustrated if their work environments aren’t as comfortable or functional as they could be. If you’re concerned about work stress, try updating your offices, conference rooms and other workspaces.

For example, if an area of your office is particularly loud try offering quiet spaces or small conference rooms for people to work from. You could also give people the flexibility to sit in alternate areas aside from their desk, placing chairs facing a window or setting up tables outside for employees to work from during times when the weather is pleasant.

2. Consider remote employees

Remote employees deal with many of the same stressors as in-office team members, but the nature of remote work means that you may not always be able to see signs of work-related stress. 

Scheduling weekly team standups can be one way to mitigate stress. These meetings shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes and the focus should be on objectives for the week and any roadblocks. As a leader, you can use these calls to get a feel for where the team is at and act as a facilitator by working to remove issues that may cause stress.

There’s also Zoom fatigue, an issue that’s mostly unique to remote work. While many in-office employees are used to jumping on video calls to meet with clients and other external stakeholders from time to time, remote employees tend to use video conferencing multiple times a day to collaborate with other employees. This can lead to increased tiredness, irritability and burnout. While you can’t always control scheduling client calls, you can reasonably limit internal calls to help prevent Zoom fatigue. When possible, let your team know that they can turn off their cameras if needed.

3. Recognize employees for their achievements

Some people feel stressed when they believe their supervisors and colleagues don’t appreciate their contributions. To prevent stress from affecting their work, make sure you regularly acknowledge the achievements of each person on your team.

You don’t have to spend money on a fancy banquet or hand out trophies from top performers. In some cases, a sincere “thank you” is all an employee needs to feel valued.

4. Offer flexible work schedules

Because a lack of work-life balance is one of the major risks for burnout, consider giving employees flexible work schedules. One person may want to start work at 9:30am so they have time to get their children on the bus in the morning, while another may want to work from 7am to 3pm so they can leave early enough to take an evening class at the local community college.

When possible, flexible schedules give team members more control over their time, reducing the stress associated with trying to juggle work, family and personal commitments.

5. Promote open communication

Researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine, Yale New Haven Hospital and the Yale University School of Management report that effective communication reduces work stress. When team members communicate openly, they don’t have to keep things bottled up inside, which may make them feel more content.

To benefit from this finding, encourage employees to be honest with each other. Ask managers to have regular check-ins with their team members. When everyone is on the same page, it’s much easier to stay productive without getting stressed.

6. Make sure you have the right number of team members

If you’re concerned about the amount of stress in your workplace, examine your staffing data. Do you have the right number of team members in each department, or are you understaffed?

When a company doesn’t have the right number of team members, current employees have to take on extra responsibilities. They may develop work-related stress due to the demands of customers and other stakeholders. If you’re understaffed, take steps to correct the problem, such as implementing an employee referral program or sending recruiters to local job fairs.

7. Change your break policies

Breaks should be a time for team members to decompress and stop thinking about work for a few minutes. A break isn’t restful if an employee has to continue responding to messages or answering questions from supervisors and colleagues.

If you don’t have a strong break policy, try implementing one that encourages team members to “unplug” from work during their break periods. 

8. Encourage collaboration

In some cases, stress develops in response to a team member trying to do everything on their own. Unless you have a one-person department, you should be encouraging employees to collaborate as much as possible.

For example, if one team member is having trouble coming up with an idea for a new marketing campaign, they should feel free to ask a colleague for input rather than continuing to struggle on their own. Collaboration enables team members to “share the load,” which may reduce work-related stress.

9. Provide management training

Managers play an important role in reducing stress, as they’re responsible for allocating resources. To reduce stress in your workplace, provide regular training to help managers understand what they can do to make things easier for team members.

For example, you might remind managers how important it is to provide constructive feedback or praise employees for their accomplishments.

10. Set realistic goals

Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-oriented. A goal is attainable if it’s realistic and can reasonably be achieved in the amount of time allotted. If you’re involved in setting goals, make each one as realistic as possible.

Unrealistic goals are a potential source of stress, as they may lead to anxiety or make team members feel that their managers are being unfair. If employees realize that a goal is unrealistic, they may get discouraged and give up rather than working hard to reach the goal.

11. Give team members the tools they need to succeed

It’s tough to do a job well if you don’t have the tools you need. For example, if a production worker has to stop and fix a malfunctioning machine 10 times per day, there’s a good chance their productivity will decline, causing them to feel stressed.

If you’re committed to preventing stress, survey team members to find out if there’s anything they need to make their jobs easier or less stressful.

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