Top five ways to manage worker stress

With high unemployment rates, record deficits and housing woes continuing to dominate the news, this holiday season may prove to be a very stressful time for many U.S. workers. Additionally, year-end deadlines, seasonal work activities; including holiday office parties, and balancing family obligations and gatherings, all add up to increased stress levels that can result in lost productivity, absenteeism, illness or other physical and mental health issues.

An American Institute of Stress report states that stress costs American industry more than $300 billion a year. Approximately one million workers are absent every day due to stress and roughly 55 percent of employees said they were less productive at work as a result of stress, according to an American Psychological Association survey. In addition, stress can lead to depression, which the National Institute of Mental Health says affects more than 18 million Americans. When left untreated, severe depression can lead to illness and even premature death. The 2008 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program reported 251 workplace suicides, the highest level since the program’s inception in 1992.

While employers have no control over the economy or certain stressors at work, they can lead employees to resources to help them better manage their stress. While these resources can be useful year round, they may be especially beneficial to a company during the holiday season. Following are a number of ways that managers can help employees:

Recommending professional help
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are a value-added resource typically available through insurance providers at no additional cost to the employee. Workers often do not take advantage of these programs because they may fear the information will be made available to their employer or others. EAPs offer confidential counseling and referral services from trained professionals to assist employees with professional or personal problems, including financial concerns, stress, depression and substance abuse.

Prioritizing workloads
Managers can help employees by providing them a “big-picture perspective” on which tasks are most crucial and require their primary focus. Setting realistic deadlines can help ease unnecessary anxiety, especially during the holiday season, when many employees are trying to balance the time they spend at work with the time they spend away from the office.

Starting a wellness program
Exercise is known to help decrease stress. Employers can check with a nearby fitness center to see if they offer group discounts. They may also consider sponsoring employees who participate in local charity events, such as walk-a-thons. This encourages exercise and teamwork, benefits others and shows workers and the community that your business cares. Coordinating brown bag lunches with local wellness professionals who can provide additional advice and resources can also help employees take better care of their health.

Praising employees
Employers must remember the power of positive thinking when it comes to motivating a workforce. Take time out of the daily routine to let employees know their work is appreciated. Simply saying “thank you” or sharing words of encouragement during tough times is enough to remind employees of their value to the organization.

Maintaining an open-door policy
Communication is very important when it comes to improving staff morale during stressful times such as the holiday season. Supervisors should talk to their staff on a regular basis and make themselves available as much as possible. This is especially important when an employee is showing signs of stress or depression and may need to talk to someone.

Helping employees manage their mental health is an increasingly crucial role for businesses. When employees are actively pursuing ways to control their stress and mental well-being, improved morale and productivity are often the result. This is just one way employers can help make it a happier, and less stressful, holiday season.

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Sandra Johnson is a team manager with Administaff (NYSE: ASF), the nation’s leading professional employer organization (PEO), serving as a full-service human resources department that provides small and medium-sized businesses with administrative relief, big-company benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity. The company also provides an array of additional products and services

Categories: Management & Leadership