- More than half of U.S. employees feel stressed out at work.
- Employee stress can cause low employee engagement, lack of focus and productivity, poor performance, and an increase in absences and tardiness.
- Stress can also cause injuries and illnesses, creating a rise in disability claims.
- This article is for managers, employees and anyone else interested in learning how stress impacts the workplace.
Stress has a major impact on workers across the globe. According to the State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report by Gallup, more than half of workers (57%) suffer from high stress on the job, and roughly 7 in 10 workers are struggling or suffering in their overall lives. Although workplace stress was already prevalent in previous years, the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted the situation as well, with 45% of people saying they have been affected "a lot" by the pandemic.
Stress is often brushed off as a normal part of life, but it can have major consequences for employers and employees if left unchecked. Learn how employee stress is impacting businesses and what you can do to reduce it.
How stress affects the workplace
Although some jobs are more stressful than others, stress can affect workers in every industry. Everyone handles stress differently, so the negative impacts of workplace stress are often displayed in different ways. It's important to address the situation if you notice an employee begin to experience one or more of these common side effects.
- Low employee engagement: Stressed employees tend to be less engaged in their work. Gallup found that 80% of people are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work, partly as the result of stress. According to Gallup, lack of engagement costs the global economy $8.1 trillion in lost productivity each year.
- Lack of focus and productivity: Many employees report that they have difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress, which can result in lower employee productivity.
- Poor employee performance: Employees may make errors and/or miss their deadlines because of stress, resulting in lower employee performance and a reduction in product and/or service quality.
- Tense company culture: Stress can negatively impact your company culture. For example, stressed employees may have trouble getting along with their coworkers or superiors. Others may also be frustrated that they must pick up the slack of a stressed employee.
- Increased absences or tardiness: Stress can cause employees to show up late or miss work altogether.
- Injuries and illnesses: Stress takes a physical toll on the human body. For example, a medically reviewed WebMD article claims that stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety.
Rising costs of behavior disability claims
Disability costs have increased over the years, in part because of the prevalence of stress in today's workplace. According to the Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, disability benefits were paid to over 9.5 million people in 2020. Additionally, medical doctors suggest that stress is a factor in the onset of illness underlying 75% to 90% of all visits to the family doctor.
Did you know? Although the unemployment level is back down to 4.2%, the pandemic, structural changes in the overall economy, and the current labor shortage have forced organizations to manage with a smaller workforce, negatively affecting workers across the globe.
Tips to relieve work stress and improve health
Though stress is a daunting, pervasive problem, there are many ways to reduce its impact on human lives and companies' bottom lines.
1. Use employee assistance programs.
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) that include work-life services are proven to reduce employee stress, decrease absenteeism and turnover, and improve productivity. Furthermore, research has shown that EAPs directly reduce disability claims.
"Organizations looking to compete in a volatile marketplace are proactively addressing stress – this can enhance employee well-being and therefore engagement," said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych, in a statement published alongside a ComPsych survey. "Leveraging the employee assistance program is an important step in dealing with workplace stress. A comprehensive EAP not only provides individual counseling but organizational consulting on change management, team building, and interpersonal skill development."
2. Track your stress levels.
The American Psychological Association recommends that workers track their stressors for at least a week. In a journal, write down situations where you felt your stress level increase. Record the circumstances of the incident. Where were you? Who were you with? How did you respond to the situation? Did you raise your voice? Did you retreat from the situation? Knowing what got you stressed and your reactions will assist in deciding how to best handle these situations in the future.
3. Set boundaries.
Time and task management (also known as work management) are vital to keep work tension at bay. If you're overtaxing yourself, burnout is bound to happen. Aim to always keep a healthy work and family life balance. When feeling tired or overwhelmed at work, take a break and go for a short walk. Eat lunch away from your desk each day to give yourself a mental vacation. Remember to prioritize the most important work tasks and delegate responsibilities when it's plausible.
Tip: Setting boundaries can help you maintain a positive work-life balance. Here are some other tips to help you avoid and combat workplace burnout.
4. Build workplace support systems.
Develop a support system to alleviate stress at work. Connect with colleagues as a way to help keep stress levels under control. When you're feeling overwhelmed, find a trusted member within your workplace to talk things through. Remember to remain supportive in turn when a coworker is feeling stressed and needs help.
If you feel as though there is no one you can lean on at work, focus on building new friendships with co-workers. You could also have a strong support system outside of the office. Talk to friends and family members about what is bothering you at work. Outside influences can sometimes give you much-needed perspective on the situation.
5. Maintain your physical health.
Remember to stay healthy to improve your stress levels. Your food choices and exercise habits have a large impact on how you feel throughout the day. A common problem is that stressed individuals turn to "comfort" food – such as sweets and fried dishes – to alleviate stress. These foods actually cause blood sugar levels to crash and your mood is likely to worsen.
Instead, eat a well-rounded diet made up of mostly lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol since these substances are detrimental to your mental health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day to boost your mood. [Read related article: Want to Get More Done at Work? Eat Better]
Ned Smith contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.