- More than half of the U.S. workforce feels stressed while at work.
- Unrealistic expectations and a lack of work-life balance are the leading causes of stress.
- Managers should take an active role in helping their employees manage stress at work.
- This article is for managers and business owners who want to improve employee morale and boost employee retention by reducing stress at work.
Stressed about work? You're in the majority: New research finds that more than half of employees are stressed at work on a day-to-day basis.
A 2021 survey by Gallup found that 57% of U.S. workers are stressed out. That's significantly higher than the 43% of workers across the globe who reported feeling chronic stress. In fact, North America was by far the continent where employees were most strained.
Large workloads, pressure-filled deadlines, unrealistic expectations from bosses and the pressure of trying to attain a healthy work-life balance are the main causes of stress for workers. Major changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including business closures and shifts to remote work, are also major stressors cited by many employees. [Stressed out? Check out these steps to eliminate workplace stress.]
Causes of unrealistic work expectations
Unrealistic expectations at work arise when there is a challenging organizational culture. When there is poor leadership, it can lead to a lack of or poor communication. There also is a tendency to have confusion about objectives and strategies. When deadlines are impossible to reach because there is not enough time to complete the task, or there are not enough workers to handle the workload, the pressure is on and expectations become unrealistic.
The most common ways employees try to reduce their daily stress is by exercising, enjoying time with friends or significant others after work, engaging in a hobby, listening to music and taking advantage of the company's paid time off policy to go on vacations.
Tip: Managing stress is just as important for business owners as it is for employees. Don't let burnout prevent you from growing your business.
How stressed-out employees affect companies
According to Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps – a division of Robert Half International – business is moving faster than ever, and employees feel the crunch when it comes to imminent deadlines.
"A stressed employee can have detrimental effects on the department or company, including decreased morale and productivity, and increased burnout and turnover," Driscoll said in a press statement. "Managers should look for signs their staff is overworked – like missed deadlines or excessive overtime – and talk to employees to pinpoint triggers and implement stress-relieving solutions."
A survey performed by Accountemps in 2017 found that most managers recognize the tremendous amount of pressure their employees are under. Specifically, 54% of the executives surveyed acknowledged that their staff is stressed, and 55% have noticed that employee anxiety has risen. What can workers do when the pressure starts to build?
Tips for employees
"Workers shouldn't suffer in silence," Driscoll said. "They can tap internal resources for help or seek advice from their managers to ensure they meet work expectations while maintaining a healthy work-life balance."
Here are several tips you can provide your employees to combat work-related stress:
- Use your time wisely. There is only so much time during the workday to get things done. Be sure to stay organized so you can keep on task and finish assignments on time. Also, instead of juggling multiple tasks at once, try dividing up time throughout the day to focus on each of your key projects.
- Ask for help. If you feel like your to-do list is too overwhelming, don't be afraid to talk to your manager about your workload. If you think you need help with an assignment, ask for it.
- Give yourself a break. It is important to take some time during the day to refresh. Step away from your desk and go for a walk or grab a snack. Even if you can't get away from your office, taking a break for a few minutes to look away from your computer and think about something non-work-related can help.
- Avoid conflict. Avoid gossip at work, and try to keep your personal opinions about politics and religion to yourself. If possible, avoid those who do not work well with other people. Learn how to deal with conflict properly when it does arise.
- Exercise at lunchtime. Thirty minutes of any exercise that raises your heart level each day helps you relax and lifts your mood. It can also increase focus and give you energy. Running, walking or dancing is great for your nervous system when you are stressed. Even if you can't put in a full 30 minutes, track your steps and set a goal to add a little more each day.
- Get proper sleep. Try to get eight hours of sleep each night. Put away all screens one hour before bed, and consider dimming your phone's screen when it gets dark to help prepare your body for sleep. Try to read or listen to music with the lights turned down low to help focus on a quiet activity. Getting enough sleep helps you to be more productive and creative, improves focus and helps your problem-solving skills.
- Keep a journal. This may seem odd, but writing down or typing your emotions is a great way to relieve stress. You can take everything that is in your head and put it down on paper. Sometimes this allows you to work through a problem. Just getting the thoughts out of your head can make it easier for you to handle a difficult situation.
Tips for business owners and managers
Here are five solutions you can use to support your staff during trying times:
- Help them prioritize. Offer your employees help by prioritizing what assignments need to be done first. Knowing which assignment you are expecting first – and when – helps personnel better schedule their time. This is also an opportunity for managers to determine if there is too much work on employees' plates.
- Offer stress-reduction resources. Make sure all of your workers are aware of the stress-related programs your organization offers. Encourage them to take advantage of these offerings – these may include emotional intelligence webinars, wellness programs, and yoga or meditation classes. Also, set a good example by taking part in these classes.
- Have fun. Even though jobs are serious, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to have a little fun around the office. Find ways to lighten the mood by planning social activities or celebrations.
- Make environmental changes. Subtle changes to the office environment have scientifically proven benefits related to reducing stress in the workplace. Two of the easiest to implement quickly are: playing classical or instrumental music, and diffusing essential oils like lavender.
- Offer workplace flexibility. By giving employees some flexibility in their work environment and schedule, you can meaningfully reduce stress. While not every solution will work for every employee, offering a variety of options can be psychologically beneficial even for those who don't decide to take advantage of them. By offering some flexibility, you demonstrate that your company is prioritizing the emotional health of your staff.