Workplace stress is still perceived by some to be an employee problem. Whilst it is of great value to encourage employees to improve their own general state of wellbeing by offering advice on issues such as time management, diet, or exercise, this is only part of the solution to the problem of stress at work. Employers also need to recognise stress as a management and leadership issue, which may cause a decline in employee performance and productivity.
In dealing with stress at work, organisations would do well to view the problem within the context of prevention rather than cure. If employers and line managers can learn to recognise signs of stress and the conditions under which stress is likely to occur, and then work proactively with employees are who at risk of being affected by stress, they can significantly reduce the negative impact of stress on employee performance and productivity.
A certain amount of stress can lead to greater productivity, particularly when the stress is confined to a limited period (e.g. preparing and delivering a presentation, finishing a report). Problems can occur when stress becomes chronic and continuous with no discernible beginning or end.
Some questions employers could ask themselves when trying to prevent an escalation of employee stress could include the following:
- Are employees completely clear what their roles and responsibilities are, and what is expected of them?
- Are potentially stressful periods counteracted by periods of fewer tight deadlines? Are employees able to predict what their workload might be over the coming weeks rather than being surprised by sudden high workloads for which they were not prepared?
- Do employees have the resources available to them that are required for them to do their jobs?
- Are workplace conflicts developing within the organisation? If so, are they being dealt with before they escalate?
Unfortunately, employers aren’t guaranteed a stress-free workplace even if they have done all they can to control the work environment, as some people are simply more susceptible to stress than others and may have problems despite an employer’s best efforts. By identifying the conditions or situations where stress may occur, and then thinking proactively about managing those conditions, employers can have happier and healthier employees who are more willing and able to contribute towards achieving an organisation’s goals.