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Updated Jun 03, 2024

How to Create a Stress-Free Work Environment

Stress can affect employees and the workplace negatively. Learn how to mitigate its impact.

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Jennifer Post, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Work is a primary source of stress for many people, even those who love their jobs. Sometimes, loving your job makes your experience more stressful. If you care too much about performing perfectly, you may be susceptible to burnout. 

We’ll explain how stress affects employees and the workplace negatively and share ways for owners, managers and employees to mitigate workplace stress.

Tips for creating a stress-free work environment

There are countless reasons why employees might feel stressed in the workplace.

“People are stressed at work due to the people and the tasks,” explained Dr. Olivia Rose, director of the Rose Health Clinic and medical advisor at Remedy Review. “This includes work colleagues, who may be difficult to get along with or who don’t pull their weight and challenging bosses. The demands and pressures are high. There’s competition and tight deadlines to adhere to, which all leads to stress.”

Thankfully, business owners and managers can mitigate some elements of employee stress consciously in several ways.

1. Create a safe work environment.

Dominic Harper, founder of Debt Bombshell, said a safe working environment isn’t just a place with top security equipment, such as closed-circuit television and access control systems. A safe environment should also extend to employees’ mental health.

Harper recommends using a “safe word” to give employees a tool to de-escalate a crisis. “Make sure employees have a safe word they can use to prevent chaos from escalating in the workplace,” Harper advised. “If an employee feels unsafe or is mentally stressed about something, they can [say] this safe word, so others will know that someone is feeling mentally unsafe.”

When a crisis is de-escalated and employees remain respectful of each others’ boundaries, it becomes easier to navigate a solution in a calmer environment.

2. Advocate for wellness.

An employee health and wellness plan incorporating healthy options and initiatives can help prevent fatigue, illness and workplace burnout while showing how much you care for your employees. 

“Managers should advocate for workplace wellness,” recommended Dan Ni, CEO of Messaged Inc. “The environment is the top contributor to stress and should be revamped by managers.”

One component of workplace wellness is a reasonable paid time off policy, which reduces employee turnover and shows your team how much you value them. A remote work option can also be a part of a workplace wellness initiative if you have an engaged remote workforce

“Remote work with flexible hours should be advocated as a viable option as it increases productivity and reduces worker pressure,” Ni noted. 

Managers can also demonstrate and advocate for self-care in a physical sense. “Incorporating self-care at work is important,” Rose stressed. “Set a timer and get up each hour to stretch, get water or take a washroom break. Pack healthy lunches instead of eating out all the time and cut coffee. Stress management begins with what you put in your body. Coffee makes stress worse by increasing the stress hormone, raising the heart rate and creating dehydration by stimulating the kidneys.” [Related article: Want to Get More Done at Work? Eat Better]

3. Define and refine job expectations.

Setting clear job expectations can reduce employee stress by eliminating the ambiguity of deciding whether to take on random assignments. Managers should also routinely audit and assess employee workloads to ensure no one is overtaxed.

“If your staff [has] problems managing workloads and there are too many people attempting the same things in different methods, it’s time for a reorganization,” explained Adam Wood, co-founder of RevenueGeeks. “Perform a skills evaluation of all employees, review and update all job descriptions, establish a uniform onboarding process and assign work responsibilities to those who are well matched.”

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Unrealistic expectations pressure workers, leading to confusion about objectives and strategies and creating impossible deadlines.

4. Create training programs.

Wood noted that employees are your most valuable business asset and you get out of them what you invest in them. Effective employee training tactics that include leadership development goals can show your employees how much you believe in their talent and potential.

“Identify essential personnel who have the capacity to do more and then help them achieve their goals by providing development programs and educational opportunities,” Wood advised. “This reduces their tension because they now have the knowledge they need to accomplish an excellent job.” 

5. Practice open communication.

Employees and managers can help reduce workplace stress with clear, open communication. If a manager has created an open-door policy and a sense of trust, employees may feel comfortable sharing their concerns. 

“Communicate with your boss about how you feel about your role instead of bottling it up inside,” Rose urged employees. “Take notes and discuss your concerns with human resources as well. Getting your concerns off your chest may help you manage stress a bit easier.”

No attempt at a stress-free life, at work or home, will yield miraculous results overnight. Rose advises taking baby steps toward building a less stressful environment.

TipTip
Try not to stress about on-the-job blunders. You can often recover from career mistakes by moving forward, accepting responsibility, apologizing and practicing damage control.

How stress impacts productivity and employee turnover

Stress isn’t an individual problem; employee stress can affect a company’s bottom line.

“Stress can damage [an employee’s] disposition, preventing them from being at their best when at work,” Harper cautioned. “When an employee isn’t able to show their best self, their productivity levels tend to drop and when such happens, their [motivation] to do and finish tasks drops as well.” 

Here’s a look at some of the repercussions of stress in the workplace: 

  • Workplace stress leads to high turnover: High employee turnover costs your company productivity and money. Take the stats as proof: According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) 2023 Work in America Survey, 92 percent of workers believe it’s important to work for a company that values their emotional and psychological well-being. About 23 percent admitted wanting to quit due to work-related stress.
  • Employees care less about their jobs when they’re stressed: When employees stop caring about their jobs and the work they’re doing, productivity plummets. The APA survey revealed that a whopping 20 percent of employees say they experience lower productivity due to stress in the workplace, while 26 percent don’t feel motivated to do their best.
  • Stress causes other emotional and health issues: The side effects of workplace stress can compound and manifest in more profound, more serious ways. For example, 31 percent of workers in the APA survey reported experiencing emotional exhaustion due to work-related stress, while 19 percent felt irritability or anger with co-workers and customers.
TipTip
If you're thinking about a career change to reduce stress, check out our list of the 10 most and least stressful jobs so you can choose the right career path for you.

Finding healthy ways through stress

“We all feel stress; it’s normal,” said Chip Munn, managing partner at Signature Wealth Strategies. “By allowing our team to make healthy choices to deal with the daily pressures we face, we can model good choices for them. It’s much easier to feel comfortable discussing workplace stress with someone they’ve seen find healthy ways to work through it.”

Workplace stress is inevitable but employees and managers have choices for handling it. Habits like packing a healthy lunch, taking a break to walk around the office, communicating with your manager or team or taking a few days to work from home can decrease work stress and contribute to an improved work-life balance.

Sammi Caramela contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Jennifer Post, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Jennifer Post has spent nearly 10 years advising small business owners on best practices for human resources, marketing, funding and more. She devotes her time to ensuring entrepreneurs are equipped with not only the knowledge necessary to launch and grow a successful business but also the software products and tools that are essential for everyday operations. These range from CRM and credit card processing solutions to legal services and email marketing platforms. Post, who has a bachelor's degree in journalism, has shared her expertise through Fundera, The Motley Fool, HowStuffWorks and more. Most recently, she has focused on risk management and insurance, two key areas business owners must understand to sustain their enterprises.
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