You knew employees were stressed. But it’s worse than you think. Many hide it – even though they need help.
Here’s the newest issue with work stress: Nearly half of employees are afraid to talk about it because they think something negative will happen. Many feel they’ll be denied a promotion or raise if they admit they’re stressed, according to research from Joblist.
The stress is real, yet many employees want to pretend it isn’t.
Why? One reason is the complex relationship people have with work-related stress. Nearly 65% of employees don’t think they’re complaining when they talk about stress. Yet, 55% of employees think colleagues who talk about stress are complainers!
So one of the first things HR can do is change the narrative and perspective on work-related stress. It’s more important now that the pandemic caused higher levels and different kinds of work stress. Help employees recognize stress and the need to address it – without fear of repercussions.
“Every company is different, and forward-thinking companies recognize that encouraging open communication about stress at work helps build a stronger organization by making it a place where employees want to stay and advance,” says Kevin Harrington, CEO of Joblist.
Here are seven ways leaders can normalize stress in the workplace and help employees recognize, talk about and address it.
Encourage constructive venting
Sometimes the best way to relieve stress is to vent about it, rather than eliminate the cause. It may not sound ideal, and in fact, may sound like complaining. But constructive venting can help employees reduce the negative effects of stress.
Nearly 80% of employees in the Joblist survey said venting is at least a somewhat effective way to eliminate stress. Many said it’s an extremely effective way to dump the stress.
The key ingredient is “constructive.” Misery loves company, and if left unmonitored, employees may make their venting sessions miserable.
Instead, allow them to informally chat before or after meetings about what’s causing them the most stress. Then encourage them to create:
- a list of the three biggest common stressors
- suggestions from each person on how to overcome or alleviate them, and
- recommendations for management on how to help them make it happen.
Tweak the culture
Just about 20% of companies encourage employees to speak up to a great extent about what’s bothering them. Even progressive companies don’t often say, “Let’s talk about stress and how you can deal with it.”
HR can take the lead on this issue. You likely have mental health benefits and resources employees can use to deal with anxiety, sadness, depression or feelings and other signs of becoming overwhelmed. Are they buried in your benefits package or advertised and encouraged?
Consider offering a series of informational sessions on the mental health benefits you offer related to stress. Steer employees toward healthy outlets such as meditation and yoga. Even better, schedule those kinds of activities on-site or virtually to reach as many employees as possible.
Many employees feel stressed because they face more and different problems every day. The line between work and life has blurred – whether they work remotely or not – and issues from each bleed into the other.
Many people try to solve problems without a strategy. They hope for the best, and sometimes make things worse.
This quick approach to problem-solving from Harvard researchers can help. Pass it along.
- Define the problem. No matter how small (meeting a deadline) or large (finishing an unprecedented project), name it.
- Brainstorm potential solutions. Throw in easy fixes, major overhauls and out-of-the-box ideas.
- Rank the solutions. Consider what’s most feasible considering time, resources, practicality and alignment with personal and corporate goals.
- Develop an action plan. Set deadlines, define tasks and anticipate outcomes.
- Test the solution. Regularly check that the plan is working so there’s time to step back, adjust or try another solution.
Front-line managers are the best people to monitor employees’ workloads. But they’re almost always as busy as their people. So gauging how far people are stretched gets lost in the shuffle.
Still it’s important. Nearly half of all people in the Joblist study said their workload contributes to their stress. Many are overwhelmed or under-sourced. And that’s something else they don’t feel comfortable talking about.
“Employees report higher productivity and higher job satisfaction when their overall stress levels are low,” says Harrington. “By creating an environment that encourages employees to be open about work-related stress, there’s an opportunity to benefit from a more productive workforce and lower turnover rates.”
Encourage and remind front-line managers to talk one-on-one with employees as often as every two weeks about:
- their goals, duties and workloads
- availability of time and resources to meet those
- feelings about ability to handle their workload, and
- ideas to better handle the workload (for instance, through streamlining, different resource allocation, change in process, etc.)
Change is stressful, and with the amount of change the past year has thrown at us, people are anxious.
Whether employees are just coming back on-site, they’re hybrid, have always been on-site or they’re fully remote now, try to normalize as much as possible.
For instance, maintain regular motivational or inclusive events. Schedule standing meetings (albeit, partly or fully virtual) at their regular times. Dole out the same – or more – recognition and rewards.
Keep as many company rituals as possible and adopt new trends as they evolve and employees embrace them.
On the flipside, you can find the right opportunities for change in employees’ stress.
“Some work-related stress can be the result of broken processes or other business inefficiencies that managers can only address if they are aware,” Harrington says. “This point is particularly relevant now because COVID-19 has caused many businesses to shift how they operate in big ways on short notice.”
So managers want to dig a little deeper when they hear or see employees are stressed. Schedule one-on-ones. If employees mention something bothers, stresses or hinders them, ask more questions. A series of “Why is that?” usually gets to the root of a problem. Then work with employees to fix the broken process or inefficiency.
If you still struggle to have open discussions to get at the heart of stress, survey employees. Even if it’s anonymous, you can likely uncover stressors. They’ll show up in patterns on your survey.
“Given over 47% of people said they’re afraid of negative consequences if they talk about their stress at work, sending out an occasional anonymous survey can also help collect feedback that employees may not want to share directly,” Harrington says.
Ask questions that get right to the matter, such as, “What gets in your way of getting your job done?” “What do you wish was more efficient?” “What’s one problem you consistently run into each week?”