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Stress Balls Will Never Fix Anyone’s Stress


3 Ways to Relieve Prevent Stress


It’s Stress Awareness Month and your employees are stressed. That’s the bad news.

Now for the worse news: 65 percent of Americans cite work as a top source of their stress, and more than one-third say they experience chronic work stress.

Now for the horrible news: All that tension and pressure is causing anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and seemingly every other malady you can (but probably shouldn’t) obsess about on WebMD.

Unfortunately, just 36 percent of employees say their organization provides sufficient resources to help them manage that stress. Except, how can that be? What about the acupuncture benefits, on-site fitness centers, complimentary yoga classes, and other wellness options that many employers are offering? Aren’t they supposed to relieve stress?

Yes, and that’s part of the problem. They relieve stress. What’s wrong with that? Their effects are temporary and fail to tackle the root causes of stress.

“Wellness programs are an attempt to remediate the harmful effects of what’s going on in the workplace,” Jeffrey Pfeffer recently told The Washington Post.

Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford and author of a new book, Dying for a Paycheck, goes on to explain, “Instead of causing you to over-smoke and over-drink and over-eat and under-exercise because of what goes on in the workplace, and then giving you a wellness program, [employers] should change the underlying work conditions. If I change the workplace so you didn’t do that stuff in the first place, you wouldn’t need a wellness program.”

That’s not to say that you should banish all stress relievers from your wellness arsenal. Employees appreciate such efforts, which can bolster your employer brand. But unless you also try to prevent workplace stress in the first place, you may as well be serving food past its expiration date and then offering an antacid.

To truly prevent work-related stress, it’s important to ponder the role you might be playing in creating it. Let’s look at what really stresses out employees, and what you can do about it.

Money Matters

It should come as no surprise that people get stressed over finances. Less than half of employees believe they are fairly compensated for the work they do, and more than a third feel they are under-compensated. Your goal, then, is not to convince employees they’re being paid enough (as if!) — it is to pay them fairly. And then explain what “fairly” means. That entails conducting benchmarking and salary studies to ensure:

  • Internal equity to compensate people according to the relative value of their jobs in the organization; employees want to feel that their performance and job differences sensibly match differences in compensation
  • External equity to make sure your company’s compensation levels are at least comparable with those of other organizations in your labor market

Furthermore, fairness and transparency go hand in hand. Don’t overlook the importance of communicating your compensation philosophy. Don’t overlook the importance of communicating your compensation philosophy.

No, repeating that sentence was not a typo. It’s to drive the point that uncertainty and lack of knowledge around compensation decisions often create more anxiety than the paycheck itself. Simply put, there’s no such thing as too much communication when talking to people about their pay. (That’s why you should use multiple methods, such as direct communication, individualized total compensation statements, employee self-service technology, etc.)

It’s About Time

More than half of U.S. employees feel overworked or overwhelmed at least some of the time. What’s more, 91 percent of people say they work more than 40 hours a week. All of which leads to stress.

PTO is not the answer. Sure, it can help alleviate stress, but again, it’s a Band-Aid that gets ripped off the moment people return to work. Besides, about a quarter of people say they don’t use all of their vacation time.

Nor is this about work-life balance. Yes, it’s great to offer flexibility around when and where work gets done. But such accommodations won’t address the heart of what’s really stressing people — not enough time to get work done. So rather than trying to squeeze 10 hours of work into five, consider whether you need to set more realistic expectations, while also helping your people work more efficiently.

For starters, think about leveraging technology geared to reduce time-consuming administrative tasks so that people can work more effectively — and on projects that interest them. After all, 92 percent of employees base work satisfaction on opportunities to use their skills and abilities.

SSA (Safety, Support, Autonomy)

No, we’re not talking about Social Security here!

Safety: Employees get stressed when they worry about negative consequences. People need psychological safety, often defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career.” In other words, employees need to feel like they can take intelligent risks at work without fear of going to the principal’s office.

At the core of creating psychological safety is tolerating mistakes.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. You don’t want to tolerate errors so much as welcome them, even embrace them at times. Doing so demonstrates that you value people who take initiative, who strive to accomplish something new, who are innovative and creative — because all of these attributes always entail failure. So think about rewarding people not just for results but in spite of them — that is, recognize people for their behaviors even when outcomes fall short.

Bottom line — it’s OK to screw up. Your people will accomplish amazing things when they work not in fear but with courage and curiosity.

Support: That people want growth and development opportunities at work should be obvious — 71 percent of employees say career advancement is important to job satisfaction. Unfortunately, one-fifth of workers say they have little or no confidence in senior management’s ability to support their personal growth and career advancement. How stressful!

Just keep in mind: An organization that genuinely values growing people’s knowledge, skills, and abilities will provide employees with the time to do so — during the workday.

When people feel like you care about their careers — through efforts related to coaching, mentoring, succession planning, job enrichment, and enlargement, workshops, and (especially) on-the-job training — they will feel a greater sense of satisfaction and control of their professional lives.

Autonomy: No one likes to be micromanaged — which is why 78 percent of employees say that autonomy and independence to make decisions are important for job satisfaction. When people feel like they don’t have enough control over their days, they get stressed.

Bonus tip: I almost hate to include this because it’s so obvious — we all learned this in preschool — but sadly, it’s sometimes forgotten. If you want less-stressed employees, treat them with respect and kindness. No explanation needed.

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