Workplace stress is so common it’s almost considered normal, but did you know it’s costing Australian businesses approximately $10.9 billion per year? That’s according to 2021 statistics from the Australia and New Zealand Autonomy of Work Index (ANZAWI), which also found 92% of serious mental health problems in the Australian workplace can be attributed to work-related stress. COVID-19 has added to existing pressures, with an Ipsos survey finding that 51% of Australians report feeling stressed due to changed work routines.
While some job stress is to be expected in a rapidly changing work environment, excessive stress can lead to a raft of negative effects – both for the individual affected and your organisation. Conversely, supporting your staff to develop coping resources and better manage stress has many benefits, such as improved job satisfaction, employee engagement and productivity. Using contemporary workforce technology to enhance autonomy and work-life balance is a key way to support employee mental health and stress management.
What do we mean by ‘workplace stress’?
Workplace stress is stress that is related to work demands and may occur when employees experience a discrepancy between the requirements of their role and their abilities, resources and available support. Some jobs – such as health and emergency services work – tend to be more stressful than others and may place workers at higher risk of work stress.
Signs of work stress
Signs your employees may be experiencing work related stress include:
- physical symptoms such as muscle tension and sweaty palms
- frequent late starts or increased absenteeism
- difficulties maintaining focus and concentration
- irritability and a tendency to get upset or angry easily
- distancing themselves from colleagues or family members
- reduced participation in staff meetings or events
- difficulties completing work tasks.
Contributing factors and stress triggers
Numerous factors can contribute to the development of workplace stress, including:
- a challenging work environment, such as workplace conflict or bullying
- inadequate time management skills or excessive time pressure
- minimal autonomy over work hours and tasks
- lack of support from managers, supervisors or co-workers
- poor workplace communication
- lack of recognition
- poor work/life balance
- job insecurity.
Effects of uncontrolled excessive stress
While some job stress actually aids peak performance, it can be damaging when persistent or excessive. Chronic stress can contribute to:
Mental ill health – stress at work can contribute to the development of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression and exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Left unmanaged, it may lead to burnout, which the ANZAWI survey found affected 77% of employees during 2020.
Physical health problems – including headaches, cardiovascular disease, weakened immune system function, and heightened injury risk.
Reduced work performance – high employee stress levels can hamper concentration, decision making, productivity and motivation. Work-related stress that impacts employee mental health or physical health may result in direct costs (such as workers’ compensation claims). It can also lead to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, which can further adversely affect your organisational efficiency and productivity.
Benefits of knowing how to manage work-related stress
Conversely, prioritising stress management can help you build a sustainable and profitable business. Some advantages you can expect include:
Greater job satisfaction
Employees with the skills to manage work stress levels are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, helping to bolster workplace morale and employee engagement.
Reduced staff turnover
Happy, fulfilled employees are significantly less likely to quit in their quest to reduce stress, helping to reduce your turnover costs. 2021 research from Gallup suggests that disengaged teams typically see turnover rates that are 18-43% higher than engaged teams.
Improved work quality
Stress management can assist your employees to concentrate effectively, communicate clearly and stay calm under pressure, thereby enhancing work quality.
Employees with the ability to manage stress at work are more likely to interact positively with colleagues and feel respected for their contributions.
Better physical health
As excessive stress is related to physical and mental health issues, stress management can lead to enhanced health outcomes.
Global research has borne out the benefits of supporting employee wellbeing through activities such as stress management. In fact, when health and wellness is well managed, organisations are 2.5 times more likely to be a best performer and three times more likely to be productive. Furthermore, employees are eight times more likely to be engaged.
What managers can do to ease workplace stress and enhance employee mental health
Fortunately, enhancing workplace stress management doesn’t need to be a mammoth undertaking. Organisations and managers can achieve significant improvements in employee stress levels by instigating some simple steps in their HR processes.
Be clear about requirements
Lack of clarity about work requirements is known to contribute to work-related stress, so ensure your workers know what is expected of them.
Set realistic expectations
Excessive demands or unrealistic expectations of perfection are bound to ignite work stress. Aim for realistic goals that motivate employees without raising their stress levels.
Encourage strong workplace relationships
Employees will be better able to manage stress when they feel supported and valued. Encourage them to raise any concerns with their manager or your HR team.
Monitor employee stress levels and sources
A proactive approach can help you gain the upper hand over workplace stress. Check in regularly with your staff about what’s causing stress at work and how you can support them to manage it.
Intervene where needed
Some cases of work-related stress will necessitate intervention by a manager or your HR personnel. Examples include workplace discrimination or bullying. Being clear from the outset and reinforcing your business’s expectations for workplace ethics and conduct can help limit the need for this type of mediation.
Offer stress management training
Stress management training can equip your staff with skills to identify their stress triggers, develop coping resources and learn strategies to reduce stress levels. Managers may also benefit from training so they can more effectively spot the tell-tale signs of stress in their team members, and understand what support is available.
Institute an employee assistance program (EAP)
An EAP provides additional support for employees experiencing emotional or mental health problems and their family members. Having trained, professional counsellors on-call for employees provides them with a valuable support service, which is all the more valuable when employees can remain anonymous. You are responsible for letting staff know about the availability of an EAP and how to engage its services.
Welcome workplace stress management
Research shows 91% of Australian employees believe mental health in the workplace is important, but only 52% believe their workplace is mentally healthy. Employers who support their staff to manage stress are therefore positioned to gain a competitive advantage through higher employee job satisfaction, engagement and productivity, and lower turnover rates.
Implement HR technology to reduce stress
Quality HR technology tools can support employee wellbeing and assist with workplace stress management. Humanforce has been purpose-built to make work simpler and more streamlined for both employees and organisations, helping to reduce work stress. Some of Humanforce’s inbuilt features that aid with stress management include:
Flexible clocking – our scheduling tool gives staff greater control over their schedules by enabling them to set their work availability and preferences and bid for extra shifts when they choose to. This enhances their sense of autonomy and provides greater control over work/life balance, helping to ease stress. It also takes pressure off your HR team and managers, with simple drag and drop functionality that allows you to create rosters in a few clicks.
Communication tools – our mobile app enables effective communication between managers and team members, irrespective of their work roles, times, or locations. This helps you identify early signs of stress and deal with it before it escalates. It also fosters interaction between team members, aiding resilience and helping to reduce stress.
Workforce analytics – long hours and high workloads are common sources of workplace stress. Our analytics tool enables you to easily identify staffing concerns so you can address them promptly, while giving you greater insight into your business.
Employee engagement – from the foundations up, Humanforce is built to enhance engagement. It supports recognition and reward of quality work and contains multiple employee engagement touch-points. Optimising the impact of these touch-points will contribute to the creation of a powerful, memorable employee experience.
Manage stress for business success
Workplace stress may be common, but it’s not completely unavoidable. Taking steps to understand and address stress at work not only supports employee physical and mental health, but it can also make your business more successful.