"How's it going?" we ask a colleague.
"A little stressed, how are you?" she replies. We nod and part ways. We're all stressed at work. Deadlines, budgets, presentations, changing priorities...it can sometimes get to be too much. It's just normal, right?
Unfortunately for the more than 60 percent of U.S. employees who said they felt stressed three or more work days per week, the impact of stress in the workplace is both human and financial.
'Insidious stress' and ever-present burnout
Mike Scalise wrote a popular essay for the New York Times detailing his growing inability to deal with workplace stress, which eventually included quitting 12 jobs in eight years.
"Stress's most insidious power is its ability, like water, to find the cracks and then flood right through them," Mike wrote. "I had to make a change, but to what? Stress seemed to be the lifeblood of a productive career."
Research shows that 60 percent of workers suffer from work-related stress that costs U.S. businesses billion a year in lost workdays. The impact of employee burnout presents an opportunity for a river of problems.
When stress hurts
We've all felt the pressure of an upcoming deadline even after we make the commute home. Some of this pressure is normal, but if it persists, it can really wreak havoc on employee health and well-being.
Uncontrolled stress in the workplace can include physical impacts such as sleep disturbances, headaches, stomach upset and raised blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. The impact of employee burnout in the workplace continues with emotional fallout including anxiety, irritability, depression and emotional dysregulation.
Anyone who's ever worked themselves to the point of burnout can also recognize other symptoms including loss of concentration, lack of motivation, difficulty with thought process, loss of memory and poor decision making.
And when our people's health and wellness are impacted by stress, it contributes to our organizational performance. Impact of employee burnout on the organization may include:
- High absenteeism
- High labor turnover
- Poor time keeping
- Poor performance and productivity
- Low morale
- Poor motivation
- Increased employee complaints
- Increased ill-health, accidents and incidents reports
According to the American Psychological Association, employees who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Stuck in the cube: Employee burnout is the norm
A recent report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health shared that job stress is a more common complaint than family or financial problems.
So, why are we so stressed out? Excuse me while I put down the phone, where I am texting with the teenager, looking up a recipe for dinner, messaging on Skype with my boss and checking out the hockey practice schedule for tonight. And then there's work: onboarding a new employee, pulling data for the big presentation, brainstorming a marketing campaign....and that's just this afternoon! I even stress about making it to my lunch time yoga class on time!
We'd all like to find the fantasy portal where we can compartmentalize home stressors and work stressors, but most of us haven't found it yet. Work affects family which affects work and the cycle continues. We know the pattern. But how can we help employees deal with modern life better during 9-5 and relieve the impact of employee burnout?
Helping employees relieve stress at work
To improve the impact of stress in the workplace will take buy-in from all levels of the organization. Employee wellness is best shepherded with a combined talent management strategy that seizes any available opportunity to observe employee well-being and performance. HR Technologist suggests formalizing "engagement dipsticks" where more formal engagement surveys are intertwined with informal check-ins and conversations.
Ongoing performance management can create an environment where employees are comfortable sharing their experiences knowing that their organization can properly handle and manage sensitive issues. It's no mistake when leaders create a culture of support. Real-time feedback and coaching can help improve engagement, cope with workplace stress, improve attendance and deal with overall health.
This is a good time to get creative. Take a page from our Swedish colleagues who meet for "fika,"-- their word for coffee break. Forget the American habit of grabbing coffee and then drinking it at a desk while you work. Fika is about sitting down with co-workers and taking a rest from what you're doing so you can socialize, de-stress and seek support or advice. Schedule a fika for your team for Friday. Try to sit and listen. You might be surprised with what you learn.
It's wise to consider even subtle nuances when looking for ways to prevent the impact of employee burnout in the workplace. Business writer Sandy Peckinpah recommends that we stop stress from stealing our joy. One of the ways she suggests to reset our thoughts about stressful situations is to understand that we're still telling ourselves "old stories."
Let's say your sales department struggled throughout the last few years but in the last 18 months, new leadership helped turn things around. But your sales people (the ones that weren't laid off) are fearful and afraid of rocking the boat with new ideas. They may be telling themselves "old stories" (no one will care, my ideas won't matter, etc.) Does your team need to have an idea overhaul? Perhaps plan a few hours at an offsite where all ideas are welcomed. Bring markers and white paper and allow your team to brainstorm.
With careful planning, the impact of stress in the workplace can be lessened for your employees, leading to healthier teams and healthier employees. Here's to a less-stressful day and week ahead!