Learn how stress affects the workplace and five ways leaders can help to reduce workplace stress.
We are living in an era where stress, sometimes chronic stress, is a daily part of life. Workplace stress is even more common as employees attempt to keep up with fast-paced work challenges while balancing their personal lives. For many, it is easy to get caught up in the stress and to let it deteriorate your personal and professional health.
In the HBR webinar, “Compassionate Leadership: How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way,” Jacqueline Carter shares that wise mindful and compassionate leadership leads to employees experiencing better job satisfaction, increased organizational satisfaction, optimized job performance, higher rates of job engagement, better leader satisfaction, and decreased burnout compared to the more prevalent “uncaring execution” — putting results before people’s wellbeing — leadership style.
Today, we discuss how stress affects the workplace and five ways leaders can help to reduce workplace stress.
How Stress Affects the Workplace
Stress can be caused by a wide array of factors, both internal and external. These triggers may occur before an employee even enters the workplace doors or logs into their first virtual meeting, or they can happen during the workday. According to Gallup’s 2022 “State of the Global Workplace Report,” Americans are stressed out and worried. Gallup cites 41 percent of workers experience daily worry, 50 percent experience daily stress, 18 percent experience daily anger, and 22 percent experience daily sadness.
41% of American workers experience daily worry, 50% experience daily stress, 18% experience daily anger, and 22% experience daily sadness.
When anyone feels worried, stressed, angry, or sad, they are likely to disengage from their work. Gallup reports that employee engagement in the U.S. continues to hover at 33 percent year-over-year. This represents a tremendous loss of organizational productivity and, more importantly, an extraordinary loss of human potential.
In addition to disengagement, long-term workplace stress can significantly hinder critical thinking. Imagine the brain as an iceberg and ideas or processing like a group of penguins huddled atop the iceberg. Only so many penguins can fit on the iceberg at one time. When chronic stress is present in an individual, it melts the iceberg, leaving less and less space for those penguins to huddle. Essentially, stress lowers the capacity of the brain to think critically, innovate, and process new ideas. Those penguins just end up falling off the iceberg! Fortunately, you can save those penguins from taking an untimely swim by reducing workplace stress.
5 Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress
It is the responsibility of the company and the leaders within for providing employees with the framework, time, and capability to practice techniques to reduce workplace stress. Here are a few ideas that we recommend.
#1: Practice Daily Mindfulness
Daily mindfulness practices in the workplace can support leaders in unlocking their employees' intrinsic motivation and supporting them in feeling happy, healthier, safer, more cared for, and more connected to their work and their colleagues.
Daily mindfulness can be practiced in various ways, such as acknowledging internal reactions, noticing one’s surroundings, and much more. We encourage leaders to provide employees with the psychological space to comfortably take a moment to pause, take a breath, and be mindful about a moment, whether that is to recenter or to process a stressor.
#2: Provide Tools for Task Blocking
One of the most significant stressors for employees is the heaping to-do list on their plate. Often, they get trapped in the unproductive process of multitasking, which can be highly ineffective.
We recommend providing employees with tools for task blocking. Task blocking is when you set a specific time to work on a single task. No email checking or working on other projects, just a sole job. Companies can provide computer software or even a simple time journal for employees to utilize.
#3: Teach Gratitude Practices
Gratitude practices have shown incredible results in improving happiness and decreasing stress. Leaders can utilize this practice to lower workplace stress, cultivate greater dedication to the company, enhance humility, and foster team collaboration.
To do this, we recommend three types of gratitude. First, you can encourage employees to write something they are grateful for (anything they want) before they start work each day. This will get them started on the right foot. Second, we recommend writing gratitude notes. You can have a box (anonymous or not) where employees write letters to each other about something they are grateful for in their teammate. Finally, we recommend gratitude sharing. Depending on your company’s culture, we suggest including a moment to share gratitude thoughts during meetings or special events.
#4: Make a Growth Mindset
A common workplace stress is the comparison of oneself to their coworkers, judging their journey, abilities, and position to their own.
To minimize this workplace stress, companies can create an environment based on a growth mindset. Everyone is growing as individuals, and the company is growing together. When negative feedback occurs, they can regroup to discover curiosity and become better rather than sinking into unpleasant emotions.
#5: Get Them Up & Moving
Chronic stress is linked to psychological and physical illnesses such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, Type II diabetes, arthritis, anxiety, and depression. Combine this with sitting hours each day at the same desk, and your employee’s health can quickly deteriorate. We encourage you to get your employees up and moving, even if it is only 15 minutes a day.
Opportunities for exercise can be as simple or complex, refined, or goofy, short or long, as needed. You can host stretch breaks twice daily where everyone stands up and moves around, or you can turn it into a dance party. Other ideas include taking brainstorming sessions on walks, providing standing desks, offering gym memberships, or anything else that will work for your business.
Become a Mindful Leader with Workplace Peace Institute
While leaders may have had the “hard training” behind running a business, they were likely never taught how to unlock employee satisfaction. In The Mindful Leader course, participants learn how to unlock their employees' intrinsic motivation and support them in feeling happy, healthy, safe, cared for, and connected. For more information or to enroll in the course, click here.
Workplace Peace Institute is an organization systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model. Our Leadership Academy supports leaders in honoring basic human needs and dignity needs in the workplace, so they can actualize human potential in the workplace. The online Leadership Academy optimizes competencies in human behavior, communication skills, conflict resolution, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to create highly engaged workplaces where basic human needs and dignity are consistently honored. All our courses are offered online and can be customized for in-person workshops and seminars.