Stress kills. And sadly, this is not hyperbole. Job-related pressures are among the biggest sources of stress for American adults, and it's getting progressively worse, year over year. Chronic, high levels of job stress can lead to increased rates of heart attack, hypertension, chronic pain, as well as other disorders.
Every industry has its unique stressors. But, whether you're a doctor or a delivery person, work-related stress shares "across the board" common factors--a check list, if you will--of work related triggers. The World Health Organization describes it like this:
- Work-related stress is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.
- Stress occurs in a wide range of work circumstances but is often made worse when employees feel they have little support from supervisors and colleagues, as well as little control over work processes.
- There is often confusion between pressure or challenge and stress and sometimes it is used to excuse bad management practice.
Employee Stress Leads to Employee Burnout
Beyond the potential for some serious health issues, unaddressed stress in the workplace can quickly lead to employee burnout, something you want to avoid, unless you enjoy being on the very expensive hiring and on-boarding hamster wheel. And I doubt you do.
Americans are known to be workaholics, and according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American workers get, on average, fewer than eight paid vacation days a year, with only about three-quarters of U.S employees getting any paid time off at all. But there are things you can do as an employer, besides offering paid vacation time, to help your teams avoid employee burnout. Let's take a look at five of my favorites.
Five Tips to Help Avoid Employee Burnout
Play fair. Like the classic "Mom always liked you best" line, as human beings, it's okay to "have favorites." The key here is to avoid showing that favoritism within the confines of the workplace. There's nothing more demoralizing for a fellow team member than to watch an underperforming and under-qualified peer get that sweet promotion because they are buddies with the boss. Be conscious of any personal friendships you develop with staffers and make sure those connections don't influence your decision making when it comes to pay scales or work assignments, either.
Don't overload people. We all know the super-achiever who is so good at what they do that they inadvertently become the "go-to person" when extra work pops up, or emergencies occur. While this usually happens with the best of intentions, it can create problems in two ways: The overloaded person can become frustrated and fatigued, and their colleague can also feel frustrated if they haven't been given a chance to shine. Employees who have been passed-over may never gain the experience they need to be able to rise if they aren't allowed to shoulder some extra weight. Keep people challenged, but not panicked.
Let employees do what they do best. Nothing is more soul-destroying than being in a role you hate. Or aren't even very good at! Your job as boss is to make sure your employees love what they do (most of the time). Talk to your staff, get to know them, find out where their strengths lie (and don't), and then, if you find some people "mismatched," be bold enough to switch things up and move people into roles they are most passionate about. If you can't move someone, then consider adjusting their current workload to reflect what they love to do. Or consider retraining. The costs incurred will be far outweighed by the highly engaged, loyal, and productive employee you end up with in the end.
Provide the right resources, human and otherwise. It's fantastic to have strategically hired the perfect teams, who are all highly skilled and work well together. But that's only step one. "Do more with less!" has been the rallying cry of many an organization since the economy took a nose dive a few years ago. But by not providing the resources your teams need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, you are paving the way for unmotivated, unhappy, and burnt-out employees. Where does that "way" lead? The door. If you can't give staff with what they need, scale back your expectations.
Create guidelines and set working hours - and stick to them! I've written before about the benefits of a digital detox--and some of those same guidelines apply here. The most important one? Make sure your teams aren't working 24/7. If your organization requires people to be reachable at all hours (in case of emergency, let's say), consider creating a rotating "on-call" schedule, so the same people aren't always being tasked with being available.
This past decade or so has seen a massive shift in the way Americans work. Virtual teams, job sharing, flex-time, freelance, work-from-home (or Starbucks!), and more are all slowly becoming mainstream choices when it comes to employment. And that's a good thing: Research has found that workers who have control over their schedules report lower levels of stress, burnout, and higher job satisfaction.
But even if you can't have remote staff, or if your industry requires your teams stick to set hours or work odd shifts, by putting processes like the above in place you will be well on your way toward reducing (or even avoiding altogether) the work-related stressors that lead to costly employee burnout.
What do you think? Do you agree that workplace stress is an issue that needs to be addressed? Have you seen movement to do so in your organization? Or are we just a bunch of whiners that need to toughen up and get back to work? I would love to hear your thoughts on this crucial topic.