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Combatting employee stress in a post-COVID workplace.

Is it just us, or is work more stressful now? 

*SPOILER: It’s not just us!

Continuing our series exploring findings from Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workforce Report, we’ll be diving into the record-breaking stress levels it uncovered to help you understand how to reduce workplace stress in 2021.

Stress is globally on the rise

If you’ve read Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workforce Report, or even just been skimming our recent articles on it, then you know that the number of employees reporting high stress reached its highest since these reports began in 2009 (43%). A similar percentage reported prolonged feelings of worry (41%). Around a quarter experienced prolonged anger (24%) and sadness (25%).

Just about every region in Gallup’s report has experienced an increase in stress, with the US and Canada having the highest rate. The one exception seems to be Western Europe, which experienced small decreases in stress and anger.

But just as parts of the world have been impacted differently, the same can be said for different demographics. Women responding to Gallup’s survey felt the increase in negative emotions more than men, as did people under 40 compared to those over 40. 

The dangers of high stress for employees

The first step in understanding how to reduce workplace stress in 2021 is knowing how it can affect your staff members, and the signs to watch out for:

Poor physical wellbeing: Between COVID and stress, many of us are understandably concerned about our health. Stress and sickness can be a real chicken and egg situation. Health problems can exacerbate already stressful occurrences like a bad day at work, but it can also result in health problems in and of itself. Not only has job stress been shown to increase risk of heart disease, but prolonged stress can also cause headaches, muscle tension, ulcers, and increased risk of illness.

It’s important to be able to notice signs of poor health in your employees, but remember, not all physical health conditions cause visible problems. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real, so be sure to treat employees with support and understanding if they talk to you about these issues. Sudden or recurring absenteeism could also be a sign of poor health.

Poor mental health: Stress’s impact on a person’s mood is one of its first noticeable signs. Stress makes people more irritable and short-tempered than they would otherwise be. But more than that, prolonged stress can really take a toll on a person’s mental wellbeing. Conditions such as depression or anxiety can be exacerbated or even caused by excessive stress.

As with physical health issues, poor mental health can often result in absenteeism. But there may be more subtle signs, like a change in personality. Left unchecked, stress and poor mental health can result in total employee burnout.

Many people struggling with their mental health choose to suffer in silence. But learning to spot the signs of depression and burnout in yourself and others can help to ensure that people in your organisation get support from their peers and from HR when they need it the most.

How stress problems impact your business

A company is like a large organism. And just like it affects people, the consequences of unchecked stress can also impact businesses, sometimes severely. So, the next step in understanding how to reduce workplace stress in 2021 is knowing the threat that it poses to your bottom line.

Stressed out employees are less engaged: While it’s not the only factor, stress is a major blocker to employee engagement, whether it stems from work or their personal lives. And lost engagement can be more costly than you might think, considering that businesses with high engagement generate 2.5 times the revenue of businesses with low engagement scores.

Unchecked stress drives turnover: When employees are stressed to the point of burnout, it becomes very difficult for them to stay in their current workplace, or even that whole sector. The problem is, turnover can get ridiculously expensive very quickly, costing as much as £30,000 per employee.

How to reduce workplace stress in 2021

In times like these, reducing stress levels of employees might not seem like the easiest thing in the world, but there are some practical steps that employers can take to support their staff. Remember, it’s all about supporting employee resilience:

  • Set manageable goals: It’s important to be realistic with your objectives. When possible, you should avoid piling more work on someone than they can get done in a reasonable timeframe. Try not to put too many different things on them at once, either, as multitasking is rarely the most efficient way to get things done.
  • Offer options for flexibility: If there’s one thing people are clamoring for post-COVID, it’s job flexibility. While plenty of people have been expecting to return to the office sooner or later, plenty of employees are interested in continuing to work from home. But whether it’s remote work, a four-day work week, or any other form of job flexibility, these options give employees back some control over their work/life balance.
  • Strengthen team social bonds: Nobody knows your job stress like the people working on shift with you. There’s a certain camaraderie in a good work team that can really help get them keep going when the going gets tough. Setting up optional social activities, like going out for a nice meal or a few drinks, or a fun team game like paintball, can be a great way of encouraging people to bond. Even something relatively small, like marking out some time for small-talk and catching up at the beginning of a group meeting can make a big difference.
  • Make sure feedback goes both ways: Feedback is the lynchpin of good employee management, and one of your main methods for how to reduce workplace stress in 2021. But good feedback is about much more than going over your employee’s work with a red pen and pointing out their mistakes.

    Just as feedback is a way for you to guide employee performance, it should also be their opportunity to highlight problems affecting them. Without this dialogue, employee voices don’t get heard, leaving their engagement and wellbeing to suffer until they’re eventually driven to turnover.

Want to see how a simple habit-forming employee check-in can help improve employee wellbeing? Check out a quick intro to Weekly10…