Cory is CEO of Galbraith Communications.
The corporate world can no longer afford to allow the unprecedented high levels of stress that exist in today’s workplace. To ignore its unabated advance is tantamount to corporate treason.
The ill effects of sustained stress are well known upon our health. What is less known are the negative impacts on daily office life and the hidden damage that can be done to organizations.
In this post, I will explain how stress can erode efficient business operations, and what employers can, and should be doing about it, without delay.
The ill effects of high stress on daily office life
- Poor communication:When people are stressed, the effectiveness of their communication is eroded. Things are forgotten and bad information is distributed.
- Lack of focus:A recent study of 2,500 employees by ComPsych, a provider of employee assistance programs (EAPs), found that an incredible 66 per cent of employees report having difficulty concentrating on their work due to stress. That leads to a lot of silly mistakes which could have otherwise been prevented. Those mistakes are costing your organization money and have the potential to irreparably damage your brand.
- Lack of innovation and fresh thinking:People under great stress are not thinking clearly. As a result, fresh ideas and better ways of doing things are not created or developed.
- Unnecessary office conflict:The same ComPsych study I mention in point 2 above, found that almost 16 per cent of those surveyed said they had trouble getting along with co-workers and managers. Stress creates conflict that doesn’t need to be there. People start to get petty, on edge and want to bite.
- Tardiness, missed days and missed deadlines:Many studies show that stress leads to people avoiding the workplace. They’ll take longer breaks, arrive late, or not show up at all.
How much is all this costing?
The ill effects I have outlined are now costing U.S. businesses close to $500 billion a year (World Health Organization) in lost productivity. (This does not include costs to the medical system resulting from stress-related illnesses).
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To put this figure into perspective, it is twice the annual revenue of Apple and Google combined, just a little under what the U.S. military spends every year, and is more than twice what experts say would be needed to end poverty in the United States (U.S. Census estimates).
While it’s true that the causes of stress are complicated (and beyond the scope of this post), it is also true that employers can do a lot to reduce stress. Indeed, they have an obligation to do so, if for no other reason, than the protection of their own bottom line.
8 ways to bring stress to its knees
These suggestions will cost nothing or very little, but have the potential to put substantial revenues back into the company.
- Walking meetings: Insist that some meetings be held while walking since exercise is a potent tool in the battle against stress. If the weather is not good, walk around the inside of the office building.
- Quiet space: We all need some quiet time. Create a library or meditation and prayer space that is free of noise. Make it a policy to only whisper in this area.
- Promote early arrival: Yes, you read that correctly. A major cause of stress is arriving at work exactly on time or a few minutes late. Arriving early allows sufficient time to grab a coffee, get organized and plan the day. Reward the early birds with a welcoming smile and free breakfast.
- Play times: Allow time during the week for people to “play” within company-sponsored activities that may include a trip to the museum or local recreation centre.
- No emailing after work: Very few messages are so urgent that employees must be sent emails after work hours. As a manager, you should avoid this practice. If you need to write messages as you think of things during off-hours, just save them and send them early the next morning.
- Allow some telecommuting for everyone: Driving in heavy traffic means millions of people are stressed even before they arrive at the office. Allow some degree of telecommuting, not just for a select few, but for everyone. Use job sharing to make this possible so that even the main receptionist can do paperwork and extra projects from home.
- Stop being so serious: You don’t need to be a comedian to let your guard down, smile and joke a bit. Show that you are human and your team will relax more.
- Conduct weekly “how did the week go?” meetings: Give your people a break from the stress of the work week by holding an informal, pizza “Thank-God-it’s-Friday” meeting. The purpose of this meeting is for people to let loose a bit, share funny stories of the week and partake in comradery.
On Monday, hold a planning meeting. Chronic stress is often due to a lack of planning.
As leaders and managers, we need to do whatever we can to reduce workplace stress.
Ignore this important responsibility and you are risking the well-being of your workforce, and in turn, the very survival of your organization.