Organizational Stress Management: How decreasing workplace stress increases the bottom line


Last week, I wrote about the stress experienced by employees and ways they can act to reduce it; today, I am focusing on the role and responsibility of the organization to reduce excessive stress.

Experiences of workers in the workplace always have repercussions for the organization as a whole. There should be little doubt that stress, labeled the health epidemic of the 21st century by the World Health Organization, will affect the performance of all organizations. The statistics reveal the acute level of the problem: 75% of employees considered their job as a major source of stress in their lives, according to an American Psychological Association (APA) study. More than half of the respondents said it affects their productivity. Fifty–two percent of employees admitted to calling in sick because of stress, while 45% admitted to sleepless nights because of stress. Additionally, approximately 60% of accidents on the job are due to stress.

The APA estimates that U.S. businesses face costs of $300 billion a year due to stress that increases absenteeism, reduces productivity, and increases turnover. It also increases health care costs by $180 billion a year. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) estimates that stress-related issues make one million workers miss work each day. Stress can also lead to costly and potentially dangerous behaviors. The AIS study revealed that 25% of workers felt like screaming or shouting at work during the past year, 14% felt like hitting a co-worker, 10% were concerned that a peer could become violent, and 18% experienced threats or verbal intimidation. Homicide is the second highest cause of workplace deaths, and deadly workplace shootings are becoming more common.

It is clear that something needs to be done quickly. Research over the years point to the following contributors to work stress: The pressure to work long hours, take less vacation, and generally to be available 24/7; conflict with others in the workplace; lack of job security; the difficulty of juggling work-life balance; unclear or conflicting expectations; dire consequences for errors; role ambiguity; and responsibility without authority. These stress contributors result from the way the organization is being managed, but some thoughtful effort can make a dramatic difference.

Bringing about stress reduction in an organization requires that it become an organizational goal with support from the highest levels of the organization, with the cooperation between management and employees. After announcing and promoting the goal of stress reduction, the organization should form a joint labor-management committee to design and oversee the process. The first step in the process is to assess the level, types, and causes of stress within the organization. A well-designed employee survey on stress emanating from the joint committee will yield important information. Repeated surveys over the years will act as an evaluation of how the stress reduction program is working and continue to yield important data for next steps.

Once the sources and levels of stress are known, management with the cooperation of employees can take steps to reduce stress. In one organization, when an employee uses his computer after 10PM a message comes up telling them to shut down. In other organizations, vacations are made mandatory, and there are a whole host of techniques to reduce job-family conflicts. These creative solutions came from both management and from employees, which is why it’s critical to have both sides involved and invested in finding solutions. An open, observable process with maximum communication can go a long way to decreasing stress and increasing the bottom line.

Organizational stress reduction cannot be accomplished overnight; it requires planning and cooperation with employees. A simple fix of providing stress reduction programs to employees or handling stress when it reaches the point of illness will not solve the problem. But for both employees and the organization, the impact will be well worth the effort.

OrgVitality specializes in organizational development initiatives including strategic employee surveys, engagement surveys, lifecycle and pulse surveys, organizational network analysis, action planning, 360 assessments, linkage analysis, and so much more. Discover why leading global corporations seek out our expert advice, rely on our powerful technology solutions, and depend on our project teams. Contact us today for a free consultation and demo.

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Brotopia - the title of a recent Silicon Valley book - describes organizational cultures that perpetuate hostile environments for women alongside disproportionate advancement of men, and systems that allow these behaviors to go on unchecked. Most know that Broptopia thrives in Silicon Valley and financial services, but many organizations face the same issues, whether at the company-wide level or within pockets. These organizations face risk, and are not operating at an optimal level. In this research- and values-driven webinar, OrgVitality partner Dr. Victoria Hendrickson will cite examples of destructive Brotopia cultures, and show how you can use employee surveys to understand and assess your workplace risk. Register here.