SOFT HR

How to deal with employee stress at work (with tips for HR pros)

Up to 35% of employees report high levels of stress at work. When mismanaged, workplace stress can hamper productivity, cause sick leaves and slowly suffocate the organization. That’s why a conscious approach in dealing with it is crucial.

Stress is basically the organism’s reaction to the unusual, threatening or suspicious situation. Stress is both an emotional and physiological reaction. With the adrenaline boost encouraging the „fight or flight” reaction, stress used to be and still is one of the key survival mechanisms.

Stress is also a natural part of life, with people being exposed to hundreds of stressors a week, sometimes a day. An aggressive driver, an unknown, loudly-barking dog or hash words from a work colleague are typical stressors one encounters.

Pikes of the stress levels are natural. If the high stress levels are maintained for a longer time, sometimes for weeks and months. This situation is also not uncommon, with people facing harsh challenges in their lives. Or working in a stressful environment.

This text covers:

  • Statistics about stress at work
  • Common sources of workplace stress
  • Ways to manage the stress at work and what the HR depts can do to help

Stress at work stats

According to the American Institute of Stress, 83% of the US workforce says that work is a major stress source in their lives. Also, 76% of workers say that high stress levels are affecting their personal relationships.

Stress-related diseases are hurting employees and companies alike. More than 50% of workers are not engaged in their work due to the high levels of stress. This results in higher costs, with companies spending up to 75% of worker’s salaries to cover the loss in productivity or find a replacement for the employee who resigned. It is estimated that up to 5 working hours a week are lost due to the employees thinking about their stressors.

This makes stress in a workplace a matter of a high interest of the HR departments. The human resources specialists are responsible for both reducing the cost of skill acquisition and ensuring the access to the skilled professional.

Common sources of stress at work

Stress at work can be an integral part of it and sometimes cannot be separated or reduced in an easy way. Think about paramedics working during traffic accidents, surgeons, or traders who can either earn or lose millions every minute. Or teachers, responsible for both safety and education or a whole class of diverse children, having different needs and requirements.

According to „The Workplace Health Report” up to 35% of employees report negative levels of stress at work. What exactly can be stressful at work? In the report the employees surveyed have named:

  • Overwhelming and workload – 76%
  • Lack of control – 35%
  • Lack of support – 26%
  • Senior staff – 25%
  • Peers – 18%
  • Insufficient training – 16%
  • Job security – 13%
  • Working from home – 11%

On the other hand, though, over 76% of employees surveyed point out that they experience significant stressors outside the work also. Considering that, limiting the stress at work can be considered a holistic approach toward wellbeing – especially since the employer has a real and meaningful impact on the stress levels at work and the HR professionals are the first line of defense against the negative levels of stress.

Ways to manage stress at work

There are multiple stressors at work, with some of them being easier to reduce or totally unrelated with the nature of the work itself. Toxic coworkers or bad-tempered bosses are good examples of these.

There are multiple ways to spot the reasons behind the stress at work and tackle it in a way that limits the sources possible to reduce.

Track stressors

Knowing the source of the stress is the first step toward managing it properly. Running a journal of stressors, with the situation, the feelings and the thoughts regarding the source of stress is both increasing the self-awareness and the form of the therapy.

According to the research published by Cambridge University Press, there are multiple mental benefits of writing about the experiences, including hard and even traumatic ones. In the control group, people writing about their traumatic experiences have shown significantly better emotional and behavioral outcomes than people who have written about neutral experiences.

Journaling is both a great way to find the greatest stressors and deliver a first-line mental defense against the odds. According to the article mentioned above, it is not required to start big – no more than 15 minutes a day is sufficient to bring all the benefits.

What the HR department can do:

The HR team’s response related to journaling can take the form of regular feedback sessions and employee wellbeing evaluation talks or surveys. While it is far from the therapeutic advantages of regular journaling, naming and describing the emotions can bring significant improvements. The key is building the atmosphere of trust and safety, to let the employee name his or her real feelings.

At Infinity Group we cope with stress at work on many levels, depending on its source. Years of practice have shown us that open communication and an atmosphere of trust are the key. In our company, we literally have an 'open door' to hr, superiors, and c-level management. If someone needs to talk, they should physically have the shortest route to the right person. We also provide tools whose role is to defuse the excess workload, e.g. periodic discussions with supervisors and an application managing staff occupancy and ensuring the amount of work per person is reasonable for one to carry out.

When the source of stress is externa, we also try to create space for conversation and allow working in flexible hours and manner (remotely or in a hybrid model) so the employees can have time and space to deal with their life. In an extreme situation such as the outbreak of war in Ukraine, our CEO brought his Golden Retriever into the office, although this might seem trivial, it helped to lower the stress level and bring back the smile on people’s faces.

Izabela Szutko, HR Manager at Infinity Group

Develop healthy responses

High levels of stress tend to result in building automatic, usually unhealthy responses like alcohol abuse or overeating. While giving a short relief, these responses hurt the health and wellbeing in the long term. To cope with the stress at work, one needs to find good, healthy and reliable responses, like sport, mindfulness, meditations or anything else – as long as it is not hurtful for either the employee or surroundings.

What the HR department can do:

Developing healthy responses like sport or mental wellbeing is a perfect aim for the benefit strategy. The employer can participate in sport programmes or provide the employees with mindfulness training during work hours.

There are also more sophisticated benefits like providing the employees with mental, psychological or psychiatric support as a benefit. Having a particular goal like aiding the workforce with building healthy stress responses can be a game changer when it comes to the company’s benefit strategy.

Staying organized

Imposing a structure and order in one’s day can be a great way to reduce the level of the daily stress. Depending on the type of job to be delivered, there can be multiple ways to impose the order in work, with using kanban tables, to-do lists, and charts being only the top-of-mind.

Being organized and tracking the progress done in work can:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Increase focus
  • Boost productivity
  • Reduce depression and anxiety

According to simplyproductive.com up to 27% of employees feel disorganized at work, with 91% saying that they would be more efficient if their work was better organized. Considering that, the lack of organization is the endless loop, with stress causing reduced productivity and ineffectiveness inducing stress.

A side effect of being better organized is having a clear record of work done, and by having better arguments when talking with superiors regarding the progress or updates.

Being organized also applies to avoiding multitasking. While seeming different, multitasking is one of the most vicious and deadly killers of productivity. Also, it increases stress levels, with the feeling of being overwhelmed and having no job done.

While common and sometimes praised as a „new way of working”, multitasking comes with great cost for no gain. From the psychological and business point of view, batching (stuffing all similar activities in one row or timeframe) is significantly more effective, enabling one to deliver more effects and keep the stress at bay.

What the HR department can do:

Self management is a skill, like any other skill. It can be self-taught or trained, and providing the self-management training sessions as a benefit or a part of a company culture is a perfect tool for the HR department to build the culture of being organized. It can be a part of an onboarding process, paired with the introduction to the tech stack and procedures in the company.

Don’t forget about ergonomics

Stress is increased in uncomfortable settings. While some positions allow only limited ways to increase the working comfort, others can be made less stressful with a minimal effort.

One can use noise-canceling headphones (or earplugs in a budget version) to reduce the background noise. Depending on the type of work, one can request a better chair or a higher desk. Considering the day-to-day impact of minor stressors, having only a slightly more comfortable working environment can bring great improvements.

According to MedicalNewsToday the long-term exposure for the noise pollution (common in office environments) increases one’s sensitivity for other stressors. Considering that, getting more comfortable at work, especially by building a more noise-prone environment, can be a great way to reduce the overall working stress.

What the HR department can do:

During the pandemic time it was common to borrow a computer or a screen from the company – so why not a comfortable armchair? This is only a matter or good will and identification of the employee needs – a perfect task for the HR dept.

Also, the HR team can perform surveys regarding the employee satisfaction with the chairs or desks they are using. Having information that there is some shared or common pain regarding the working comfort can bring an easy win.

Find support

Coping with high levels of stress is a tremendous task that can be too hard to be handled alone. Accepting help from others can be crucial in managing the high levels of stress in daily life.

Depending on the stress levels and the severity of the situation, the support from friends or family members can be enough. If not, one may require support from a skilled psychologist or therapist. Some companies have dedicated benefits or teams that help employees of all levels in coping with stress and support them in finding their way to balance.

What the HR department can do:

Finding support is all about the culture of the company. If the organization uses the rhetoric of fear and distrust, sharing the pain with basically anyone can be a high risk or considered weakness. Yet if there is an open, diverse culture of mutual trust and support, finding the support comes much easier. Yet, it is hard work for months, if not years, if the open and friendly culture is not rooted in the organization.

First of all, every Netguru employee closely collaborates with their leader – this collaboration is not only about professional development but also the general wellbeing, workload and job satisfaction. Apart from that, we use the platform Therapify (available for everyone). We organize campaigns where Netgurals openly share their stories on how they overcame, among other, psychological problems – this is possible because we provide them safe space. There is also a slack channel where people can reach out to their peers for advice and support. We also practice open communication so that people can feel well-informed about all changes in the company, its strategy and economic situation. We also provide flexible working conditions – when it comes to time and place of work.

Katarzyna Pająk, People Experience Specialist at Netguru

Establish boundaries

The modern culture of working in a hybrid or remote model builds the unspoken requirement of being available 24/7 and working all around the clock. This can get hurtful with increasing stress and causing burnout. According to the data gathered by Apollo Technical, up to 65% of home-based employees actually work more than they used before going remote.

Boundaries to be established can be either physical or mental.

  • Physical boundaries – In the perfect world, one would have own home office, with a fitting desk, comfortable armchair and a fancy whiteboard full of colorful posits. But the harsh reality is far from that, with employees living in overcrowded apartments with their families;. Having a quiet corner with a curtain or at least a desk that is used in the work only is the perfect way to set this type of boundary, With that all the breaks during work can provide an opportunity to plug-out from work but simply leaving the computer;
  • Mental boundaries – These are harder to establish and require some self-discipline. These include plugging off from the work after hours, not responding to the email after hours, and making all the choices that build the work-life balance.

What the HR department can do:

The HR team can take an uneasy role of a balance sentinel, being a point of contact when employees’ boundaries are disrespected, or the team leader feels that there is an issue with productivity or contact with the employee.

Avoid conflict

Conflict is one of the most destructive forces in the working environment. Work is one of the major elements of life, consuming a lot of hours, usually with an enclosed group of people. Thus, with the conflict in the team, avoiding the stressor can be extremely complicated, if not impossible.

According to the CIPD report, 26% of employees and 20% of employers say that the conflict is prominent in their workplace. When not managed properly, conflict can result in bullying or mobbing in the workplace. This bears serious psychological consequences, as well as a high risk of further consequences, from legal to image ones.

As an employee, it is reasonable to avoid aggressive and toxic coworkers. Also, one can resign from participating in the conversations about sensitive topics, like religion or politics.

One should also get to know about anti-mobbing and anti-discrimination procedures in the company and keep awareness regarding the rights and responsibilities.

The baseline approach to address stress at No Fluff Jobs is trust. We assume that if someone was successful in our recruitment process, where we analyze both the hard and soft skills, as well as their alignment with our values: transparency, honesty and respect, they shall be trusted on day 1. And that leads to building strong relationships within teams and with managers, to listening to the needs of the company and the individuals, and as a result to reduced levels of stress and higher job satisfaction.

Monika Słomińska Senior Payroll & HR Specialist in No Fluff Jobs Sp. z o.o.

What the HR department can do:

Managing conflicts in the team is an essential HR responsibility. Avoiding conflict goes deep to the organization structure and culture. Building a conflict-prone working environment is an art for itself and can look vastly different in multiple companies or organizations.

Take time off

Taking regular time off is vital to keep the stress levels in control. It is also not as popular as one would imagine. According to Worktest data, an average private-sector employee has taken seven days of paid time off in a year. According to the data gathered by Zippia, up to 55% of Americans don’t fully use their paid time off. Actually Americans failed to use 768 million paid days in 2018.

Taking the time off is a great way to recharge and rest, assuming the boundaries are set and one is really out of work.

What the HR department can do:

The HR team can actively encourage the team to take time off by reminding them about the option or promoting the culture of avoiding overwork. Also, the internal communication can show the executives and employees setting a good example.

Building the culture of time off requires implementing a sophisticated yet reliable leave management system that stores and processes the information. Without the clear information about the time off the employees can take regarding their contract, benefits or other variables, encouraging them to do so can be counterproductive.

Learn how to relax and find time to do it

Apart from taking a long time off, one needs also to practice some form of day-to-day relaxation to keep stress levels at bay. There are numerous ways to find yourself in a relaxed mood – from running to mindfulness and meditation, to yoga and relaxation techniques.

There are multiple manuals and guides online about finding the inner balance. Free courses and instructions on YouTube, paid courses or any hybrid form. Meditation is one of the simplest and most popular ways to reduce stress on a daily basis. According to the data gathered by disturbmenot.co over 14% of Americans have meditated at least once and it is estimated that between 200 and 500 thousand people are meditating worldwide. Also, it is implied that meditation can reduce the risk of being hospitalized for coronary disease by 87% and can boost productivity by up to 120%.

What the HR department can do:

Again, it is a great opportunity to reshape and rethink the employee benefits policy. Providing the employee with skill-building sessions and training can be considered a great benefit and the way to keep the employee loyal to the company.

Final thoughts

Stress at work is a natural element of life. On the other hand, when the threatest sources of stress are not the part of the work itself, but come from the toxic environment and the levels are reaching harmful or dangerous levels, reaction is necessary.

HR departments have a plethora of tools and ways to manage the workplace stress and mitigate the risk of making it unbearable. On the other hand, stress is a challenge creeping behind, that is easy to overlook in the dynamic world of today’s workplace. This makes proper tools and education even more important.

Newest Articles

There are tons of benefits you can achieve from processing the data you get from your teams’ daily activities. The challenge is in finding the way to do that in the most productive way. This guide focuses on the types of data the HR dept collects, how to go smoothly through the process of collection and use the effects for the company's benefit.

Read more

An employee's absence in the office indicates that he or she is heavily sick. But what to do when one needs not to go to the office, or even if there is no office at all?

Read more

See all articles

Try Calamari for Free
14 days of free trial. No credit card, no commitment.
Something went wrong :( Try once more in a few minutes