Workplace stress is contagious. Whatever fine filaments, which connect individuals, transmit stress most effectively from one person to another. Whether it be a grimace covered by a smile or a tendency to talk quickly, humans are very good at picking up on threat. It’s a survival mechanism. If one individual in the herd perceives a threat, its probably a good idea for everyone to take note. If its the boss, its even more important and this top-down transmission can damage a workplace. Unmanaged and unacknowledged stress has to go somewhere, but the degree of separation and inadequate communication in stressful times makes it difficult for subordinates to fix a problem, which didn’t originate with them.
Acknowledging Stress in the Workplace
Managing stress in the workplace is clearly as important for managers and employers as the other roles they perform and managing their own stress by acknowledging it to subordinates is a very good place to start. Culturally, there is a tendency to view personal stress in the workplace as a weakness, but the fight-flight response indicates that stress is a life-saving and natural part of life. Managing excessive stress and supporting stressed employees in an open manner really is part of the job.
According to The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions’ year 2000 survey, which periodically gathers data on the European Union’s working population, there appears to be a high correlation between stress, musculo-skeletal disorders and features of work organisation, such as repetitive work and work pace. Therefore, it can be said that carrying unacknowledged stress in the workplace is leading to physical health problems and the culture of a business plays into the stress levels of employees. There may be some truth in the saying that when it comes to stress, “People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers.”
Moreover, Australian experts in this field of workplace support say that workplace stress should be addressed immediately to avoid a decline in employee productivity. When employees suffer from unresolved stress, performance and job satisfaction are affected.
Employer-Initated Stress Management Programs
Some suggestions for de-stressing the workplace:
- Recognise stress as a serious issue for individuals and business as a whole.To engender team support, celebrate periods of intense productivity as a group to show appreciation.
- No matter how intense the workload, keep communications channels open. The more stress, the more communication needed.
- Legitimise anti-stress techniques, such as massage and meditation.
- Share methods of stress reduction openly.
- Consider time-out as a viable antidote to a very stressed employee.
- Encourage laughter (those email jokes are not such a bad idea).
- Listen to ideas posed by employees. Inspiration deposes stress.
- Recognise that personal issues influence work performance because everyone is human.
- As a boss or management figure, apologise when personal stress leads to irritability.
Executive Stress Leads to Employee Stress
While there are many stress reduction programs available to employees, one of the best ways to manage stress in the workplace is for employers and managers to learn and implement strategies to manage their own and then pass these techniques on to employees. Leading by example cannot be underestimated in an business environment where productivity and personal success depend on group behaviour.