6 Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress: A Guide for HR Pros
Work can be stressful at the best of times. In many ways, we want to be challenged and relish tackling all of the tasks on our lists. Accomplishing those tasks can provide a great deal of satisfaction and fulfillment. However, sometimes it can feel as though our workload is getting on top of us and that work itself has become a daily grind.
What’s more, the stresses that come with professional life are often compounded by personal problems. Even if you’re blessed with a carefree existence outside of the office, we’re all still processing and recovering from the universal trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It's a heavy topic but one we can’t avoid. Workplace stress is to be expected—but there are ways to combat it. With more employees working remotely, companies need to put measures in place to help workers understand how to deal with work stress.
Read on to find out how to recognise stress in the modern workplace and how to beat it.
3 Negative Impacts of Workplace Stress
Workplace stress is not always a passing feeling. Extreme stress has several consequences—that can physically, mentally, and emotionally damage employees—and it often impacts more than a single stressed-out individual.
And while you may think that you’re the only one feeling it, it’s actually pretty common. According to the American Institute of Stress, 40% of employees report feeling extremely or very stressed at work.
It is vital to nip this in the bud both at a personal and organizational level. But before we start talking about solutions, let us look at the major issues that can develop due to stress.
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Workplace Stress Can Cause Health Issues
As people get back to work, they enter an atmosphere that they need time to adapt to. While some may have experience in the workplace, new employees may have only known remote work and thus require time to adjust to the office.
Health implications can reflect this, and research across the board has linked high stress with numerous health problems like coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, headaches, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, and more. Moreover, with people used to working from home, a foreign environment can even cause a major hit on the immune system.
According to one study in 1998, employees who were under constant work-related stress lasting longer than one month had three times the risk of catching a cold—and this risk increased five-fold after three months of stress.
Workplace Stress Can Disrupt Sleep Habits
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all. Remote working removed the need to get up early and commute. For many, re-joining an office will cut down their free time. As daily routines shift, the lack of a good night’s rest can weigh you down and make it tougher to work at your best.
Stress decreases motivation, productivity, focus, and even attendance. According to half of those surveyed on sleep habits, 52% of men and 42% of women, said that stress-induced lack of sleep caused them to lose focus on their work.
A great way to manage this issue is flexible start hours, allowing employees to initially start and leave later and then lean into the traditional work timings.
Workplace Stress Can Lead to Burnout
The more extensive and meaner brother of stress, burnout can breed when individuals have a severely negative response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors within the workplace. Employee burnout can lead to all of the negative effects mentioned above, plus cynicism, social withdrawal, and active disengagement in the office.
Developing an active game plan to combat this should be a priority for any HR team within the workplace.
How to Deal With Work Stress: 6 Strategies for HR Pros
Help Employees Identify Stressors
Applicable to both a personal and organizational level, it’s of utmost importance to see what’s causing workplace stress. Whether it’s mismanaged projects, team conflicts or a toxic atmosphere, to solve the issue you’ll need to uproot the cause.
At a personal level, you can try to track how you spend your time for a week, including what you do, with whom you do it, and how you feel during each block of time. After a while, you may start to see trends emerge around certain activities or people where your stress spikes. Take notes and report them to HR as on-ground feedback to provide the best result.
Conversely, the HR team should develop a framework for workplace stress analysis and actively survey employees for satisfaction and stress reports.
Encourage Teams to Prioritize and Focus
One of the biggest mistakes in a workplace can be spreading yourself too thin. Sometimes all you need to do is take a step back and see things in a different light. Not every task on your agenda needs to be completed simultaneously, and centered attention can reduce employee stress.
Decide what matters to the company and which clients take priority. You may also need to consider the priorities in your personal life. Write out a list, block out time, and then get to work. Don’t look at everything around you. Remember, a good runner only focuses on one thing—the finish line ahead. Do that for your tasks too!
Within HR, you too should try to pinpoint issues that cause employees to stress. Work through them one by one on a priority basis.
Facilitate Support Groups and Buddy Systems
Social alienation in the workplace can compound the effects of loneliness and stress in the office and can even affect your personal life. Even though you might feel like a one-man army, you’ll feel a lot stronger if you know you have people to turn to. Positive social interaction at work can also help break the cycle.
Many people are introverts and avoid socialization on their own. At an organizational level, developing activities, programs, and socials can help people come together and enjoy working alongside each other. Another great way to implement this concept is to develop a buddy system that’s developed according to employee insights. People can always have someone to turn to, especially when they don’t know how to handle stress at work.
Create a Culture That Disconnects to Recharge
Learning to separate work and life is a hugely important skill. Knowing when to disconnect can save you from additional stress.
But it’s not enough to just disconnect from workplace stress. Stress can show up in our personal lives as well—it might just be wearing a different mask. So, do something that truly calms you down rather than forcing a social life that is more focused on making others happy.
From an organizational point of view, try not to disturb your employees during their personal time, even when the workload is stacked high. It might seem like an efficient idea, but it can come to bite you in the back by reducing their productivity the next day.
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Encourage Vacations and Paid Time Off
It’s always a great idea to break the monotony of work with some time off to relax. Giving yourself that break is important, and it can benefit your entire organization as employees return happier to work.
While it may seem like a good idea to keep saving up for long vacations, sometimes these can pose as much if not more stress due to a crazy travel schedule. So occasionally take a random Friday off, grab some pizza, and sink into the sofa while you binge your favorite TV show. You deserve it.
A good HR team recognizes the symptoms of fatigue and overwork and should strive to push people to take the occasional holiday.
Remind Employees to Try a Screen Detox
Not up for a streaming binge? It may be wiser to avoid it. With so much time spent staring at screens at work, getting home to a gaming session or a long movie may not be the tonic to cure your ills. Instead of scrolling through social media for a couple of hours, detox your screen time and take a break with no interruptions.
Go for a nice picnic or a walk or run a bath—do whatever suits you. Avoiding screens for some time will help you to effectively manage your workplace stress while working on the office monitor the next day.
Human resources professionals can play a key role here as well. If company leaders model good screen hygiene, their employees are more likely to do the same—so consider crafting company policies around when employees are expected to be online.
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