Stress – defined as a physiological response that is necessary for survival – is something we all experience (Jefferies, 2016). Individuals experience different levels of stress at different points in their lives, and even though the word “stress” tends to have a negative connotation attached to it, there is such a thing as good stress. This is known as optimum stress – the stress level at which an individual performs their best. Most people need a certain level of stress in order to be motivated to perform (2016). If an employee does not feel enough stress in their work environment, they may be too relaxed and therefore unmotivated to get work done. On the other hand, if an employee has way too many tasks on the go and deadlines are approaching and they feel as though they are overwhelmed, exhausted and can’t get everything done on time, this is an example of overload stress. When this overload of stress persists for a long period of time and starts to result in anxiety, panic, and fear, it is known as burn-out. Chronic stress can lead to health and productivity issues, so it’s important for employees to know their limits, capabilities and how to find balance to achieve their optimum stress level (2016).
Consequences of Stress
Stress has been shown to increase risk for multiple health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, obesity, and cardiovascular disease (2016). Aside from the health issues stress causes to the individual employee, stress also negatively impacts workplace health and productivity. Stress is frequently a factor regarding absenteeism in the workplace, reduced productivity and conflict in the workplace (2016). According to Stats Canada in 2001, stress-related absences cost employers approximately 3.5 billion dollars each year, and it is likely that number has increased (2016). These are just a few of the consequences associated with stress when it surpasses that optimum level.
How Can We Reduce Stress?
Every individual has a different stress threshold and their own way of coping through stressful situations. What may be considered stressful to one person may not be stressful at all to another – therefore, it’s important to know what stresses you out and what coping mechanisms are most effective to alleviate stress. While there is no one-size fits all approach to managing stress, here are a few general tips that have been shown to reduce stress in the majority of people:
- Avoid Unnecessary Stress – know your limits and stick to them: be able to say “no” to extra tasks and to being around people, situations and environments that stress you out
- Practice Time Management – poor time management is a cause of stress: know your schedule and make distinct plans and time slots to ensure you have time to complete everything on your to-do list
- Accept Things That You Can’t Change – be aware of stressful situations that are out of your control: some stress is caused by forces that there is nothing we can do about – try talking about it with a trusted friend, learn to accept the situation and let go of the stress for which you have no solution
- Make Time for Fun and Relaxation – while practicing your time management skills, make sure to slot in time for activities you enjoy and that make you feel good – this is important for self care! Going for a walk, practicing mindfulness, spending time with people you care about, taking a long bath or spending time in nature are all good stress-relievers
- Create a Healthy Lifestyle – your physical health has an impact on resistance to stress! Simple exercise, eating healthy, reducing sugar and caffeine, avoiding substances and getting enough sleep can help build resiliency to stressful stimuli (HelpGuide.org, Quick Stress Relief)
What Employers Should Know
As an employer, it is important to notice the warning signs of stress in your employees. As stress negatively impacts work productivity, it’s beneficial for an employer to know when to step in and assist an employee in stress reduction. Some signs and symptoms of stress to be wary of include irritability, depression, anxiety, apathy, loss of interest in work, social withdrawal, exhaustion, physical illness and trouble concentrating (HelpGuide.org, Stress in the Workplace).
Some tips on how to assist your employees with stress management include:
- Having open communication with each individual employee about their stress level and coping strategies
- Be sure workloads are appropriate and suitable to your employee’s abilities – an assessment by an Occupational Therapist is a great way to determine employee suitability
- Deal with workplace conflicts quickly and as positively as possible
- Have a clear outline on employee’s roles, responsibilities and goals
- Give acknowledgement for a job well-done (Helpguide.org, Stress in the Workplace)
- Reduce psychological risk factors through a methodical approach to auditing your workplace
- Offer Employee assistance programs or similar crisis lines through connex.ca
- If an employee reports a work related Chronic Mental Stress Claim ensure that you investigate the incidents promptly, assess cognitive demands analysis of the work and offer safe and timely return to work through adjustments to the work according to the employee’s abilities.
These are just a few general examples on how to reduce stress for employees and employers. For more information on stress reduction, benefits of mindfulness, and resiliency training – check out our webinars! Gowan Consulting has multiple resources available to help employers and employees manage stress, including accommodation assessments, return to work practices, and functional cognitive assessments which can provide you with information regarding how stress is impacting your employee’s ability to perform work-related tasks.
We make a point of understanding our customers so that we can provide the right service – Contact us to find out more about how we can work with you to ensure the health and safety of your employees, or make a referral to get in contact with an Occupational Therapist regarding workplace solutions.
HelpGuide.Org. (2018). Quick Stress Relief. Stress. Retrieved from: http://helpguide.org/articles/stress/quick-stress-relief.htm
HelpGuide.Org. (2018). Stress in the Workplace. Stress. Retrieved from http://helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-in-the-workplace.htm
Jefferies, J. (June 3, 2016). Mindfulness: The Benefits to the Workplace. Gowan Consulting.
wsib.on.ca Chronic Mental Stress Policy accessed 2018 05
Photo retrieved from google.ca/images/stress.