Stressed Out!

As an employer, you notice problems in your workplace – increased absenteeism, diminished productivity, sabotage of equipment, deletion of necessary data, strained customer relations, and perhaps even violent outbursts by staff.  What is the cause ?  It is likely worker stress.  Some stress in the workplace is probably inevitable, but because of its harmful effects and even legal ramifications, employers would be well advised to develop plans for dealing with employees’ stress before it deals harshly with them and you!

No one wants an employee pushed past his breaking point, and it is unlikely that employers are intentionally doings so. Many employers, however, ARE ignoring signs that their employees are becoming frustrated, thereby tolerating decreased performance in the workplace. And worse, if an employee’s stress results in harm, either physically or economically, to a third party, an employer’s failure to take action may be damning evidence in a negligent supervision or retention lawsuit. 

Employers need to educate their managers on the importance of identifying trouble early. The more your managers know their employees, the sooner they will be able to spot changes in personality. Many supervisors only have face-to-face meetings with staff during annual or semi-annual performance reviews; it would be better if managers had routine meetings with staff during which employees are encouraged to discuss goals and any perceived obstacles to those goals. If your business has an Employee Assistance Plan, the manager could refer the employee to it, and depending upon the intensity of the problem, might even make counseling a condition of continued employment. 

Warning signs of job stress include changes in behavior, headaches, difficulty concentrating, short temper, upset stomach, lack of energy, and a retreating from socialization at work. Common job stressors are long hours, few breaks, uncertainty about job security and job expectations, a feeling of no control, too much responsibility, a lack of support staff, and working conditions that may are unpleasant or risky. Here are some ideas for dealing with these stressors:

  • Have managers insist their staff take lunch breaks, coffee breaks, and vacations. A little time away from the desk can do wonders for one’s perspective, and the sensitivity of a manager to this need shows that management does not want to sacrifice an employee’s overall well-being for a couple extra minutes of production.
  • Constantly communicate with your employees, providing them with timely, accurate information about the company’s plans, especially during times of downsizing or reorganization.
  • Schedule routine, non-threatening discussion between management and staff during which employees can provide suggestions and receive feedback.
  • Ensure that managers provide workers with clear direction and ongoing feedback about job performance, with particular emphasis on job duty priorities and time management.
  • If you have either a formal or informal employee assistance program, be sure its benefits are fully understood and easily accessible.
  • Monitor workloads to avoid overloading individuals (especially the more productive ones) and ensure you have an adequate number of workers.
  • Consider bringing in guest speakers to educate employees on healthy lifestyle habits including diet, exercise, and stress and time management.
  • Be sensitive to stressors in employees’ lives including commutes and family commitments, and to the extent possible, encourage flexibility in time schedules to ease those stresses.
  • During the interview process, probe to uncover angry personalities. Such questions might include: Has a superior ever ignored your suggestions? If so, how did you handle it? Do you get angry? How do you express your anger? Ask about past violent or “stressed-out†behavior when doing reference checks.

Being sensitive to changes in the personalities of your workforce is the key to early detection of a possible problem.

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