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Managing (and Identifying) Causes of Workplace Stress

6th November 2023

young businessman holding his face with hands while sitting at the desk in the creative office

Workplace stress is a pervasive issue that affects employees across various industries and job roles. While some stress is always needed to perform, it’s when short-term stress – also known as acute stress – becomes long-term, or ‘chronic’, that serious problems can arise in the workplace both for the employee and the organisation. These problems can range from decreased productivity and job satisfaction to long-term health consequences for individuals. Chronic workplace stress can lead to burnout, increased absenteeism, and high turnover rates, which ultimately impact an organisation’s bottom line. 

The first step in effectively managing stress is to understand the root causes and implement appropriate solutions. This process involves identifying the specific stressors that are contributing to the problem and then taking proactive steps to address them. It may include conducting stress assessments, seeking feedback from employees, and analysing workplace practices and policies to pinpoint areas that need improvement. 

Let’s discuss what causes workplace stress, along with suggested solutions to support your workforce: 

Poorly Trained Managers 

A significant cause of workplace stress is the presence of poorly trained managers. When managers lack the necessary skills to effectively lead and support their teams, it can create an environment of uncertainty, miscommunication, and frustration among employees. Under-trained managers may not provide clear guidance, struggle to resolve conflicts, and have difficulty recognising and addressing employee needs. 

The cumulation of these factors can often lead to the mental health of employees being affected. Poor leadership can erode trust within teams and negatively impact the overall work atmosphere. Furthermore, when employees feel unsupported or misunderstood by their managers, they are more likely to suffer from stress-related issues, such as anxiety and depression. 

Solution: To address this issue, organisations should invest in comprehensive manager training programmes. These programmes should focus on developing essential leadership and communication skills, conflict resolution, psychological safety and emotional intelligence. It’s essential to foster a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging managers to regularly update their knowledge and skills. By equipping managers with the tools they need to lead effectively, organisations can reduce workplace stress and create a more harmonious and productive work environment. 

High Workload 

One of the primary contributors to workplace stress is the burden of a heavy workload. When employees are consistently overloaded with tasks and responsibilities, it can lead to physical and mental health issues. High levels of stress are often associated with long hours and excessive work demands. Addressing the issue of high workloads is not only about reducing stress but also about safeguarding the quality of work and wellbeing of the workforce. Finding a balance between productivity and employee wellbeing is crucial for sustaining a healthy, vibrant workplace. 

Solution: Employers need to carefully assess workloads and consider redistributing tasks or providing additional resources when necessary. This ensures that employees are not overwhelmed by their responsibilities, allowing them to work more efficiently and reducing stress. Consider how often your managers assess workloads – are they encouraged to do so? If not, you could set up your employees up for burnout. 

Poor Work Environment 

The environment in which people work can have a significant impact on their stress levels. Factors like noise, lack of privacy, inadequate lighting, and uncomfortable seating can all contribute to workplace stress. A comfortable and supportive work environment is essential for employee wellbeing. Environmental influences include not only the physical aspects of the workspace but also the cultural and social dimensions. A workplace culture that promotes respect, inclusivity, and work-life balance can significantly reduce stress. Open communication, mutual support among colleagues, and a sense of belonging can create a more positive atmosphere, ultimately mitigating stressors.  

Moreover, ergonomic office design, noise reduction measures, and the provision of quiet spaces for focused work can help minimise physical stressors. By addressing these environmental factors, employers can enhance the overall workplace experience, improve employee morale, and support their mental and emotional health.  

Solution: Employers can invest in ergonomic office furniture, provide noise-cancelling headphones, and create designated quiet areas to improve the work environment. Additionally, they can encourage open communication with employees to address specific environmental concerns. 

Lack of Work-Life Balance 

Balancing work and personal life is crucial for maintaining mental and physical health. Employees who find it challenging to separate their work from their personal lives are more likely to experience work-related stress.  

Solution: Employers can support work-life balance by implementing flexible work hours, offering remote work options, and discouraging excessive overtime. Encouraging employees to take their annual leave entitlement and providing resources on time management and boundary-setting can also help them achieve a healthier balance. 

Pressure to Meet Deadlines 

The constant pressure to meet tight deadlines can be a significant source of stress in the workplace. This pressure can lead to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and, in the long run, heart disease.  

Solution: Employers can alleviate this stress by setting realistic deadlines, allowing employees to participate in the deadline-setting process, and providing additional resources or support during high-demand periods. Recognising and rewarding employees for their efforts can also reduce the negative impact of tight deadlines. 

Unclear Expectations and Role Ambiguity 

When employees are unsure of their roles and what is expected of them, it can lead to anxiety and stress. Clear communication of job responsibilities and expectations is vital for reducing workplace stress. Clarity in job roles and expectations not only promotes a sense of purpose and direction but also empowers employees to perform their tasks more efficiently. When individuals understand their responsibilities and how their contributions align with the broader goals of the organisation, they are more likely to experience worse job satisfaction and a reduced sense of uncertainty. This, in turn, can lead to decreased stress levels and a more positive work environment. 

Solution: Employers can address this issue by providing job descriptions, setting clear goals, and offering regular feedback and performance evaluations. Encouraging employees to ask questions and seek clarification when needed can also reduce role ambiguity. 

Lack of Control and Autonomy 

Employees who have little control over their work or decision-making may feel disempowered and stressed. Providing employees with more autonomy and involvement in decision-making processes can mitigate this stressor. This concept aligns with Self-Determination Theory (SDT), a psychological framework that emphasizes the importance of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in promoting intrinsic motivation and wellbeing. 

Self-Determination Theory suggests that individuals have a natural need for autonomy, which means having control over their own actions and choices. When this need for autonomy is met, it can lead to increased motivation, job satisfaction, and overall wellbeing. In the workplace, providing employees with opportunities to make decisions related to their work can fulfil this need for autonomy and reduce the feelings of disempowerment and stress. 

Solution: Employers can empower their workforce by delegating decision-making authority, involving employees in problem-solving, and allowing them to have a say in their work processes. This sense of control can lead to increased job satisfaction and reduced stress. Empowering employees by granting them greater autonomy not only enhances their sense of ownership over their work but also increases their overall job satisfaction. When individuals have a say in the decisions that affect their work, they are more likely to feel valued and engaged in their roles. 

Upskill your employees 

Another worthy solution is training your employees in stress management practices. After all, a well-trained workforce is better equipped to recognise and cope with stress effectively. Stress management training can provide employees with valuable tools and techniques to handle work related pressures, improve their resilience, and maintain their mental wellbeing. It’s one of main reason our “Stress Management for Positive Change” is one of our most popular courses at Health@Work.  

By offering stress management workshops and resources like employee assistance programmes, employers demonstrate a commitment to the health and happiness of their employees.  

There will always be stress in workplace, but the levels of stress will vary depending on various factors, including the work environment, management practices, and individual coping strategies. Recognising the inevitability of workplace stress, employers should aim to create a supportive and conducive work environment that minimizes unnecessary stressors and equips employees with the skills and resources they need to manage stress effectively. 

By proactively addressing the root causes of workplace stress, promoting a culture of wellbeing, and offering stress management tools, organisations can strive to strike a balance between productive stress and unhealthy stress. In doing so, they not only enhance the quality of work life for their employees but also contribute to a more resilient and thriving workforce. 

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