Editor's Desk - May/June 2012

Stress Test

"Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness."

—Richard Carlson  

Are your employees sitting at their desks, with glazed eyes, poised for flight or fight? You don't think so? Think again, and start making plans to help them cope because a recent survey from Right Management shows two out of three people say the stress at work is high. Another quarter said they experience medium levels of stress at work. Only 11 percent said the stress levels were low.

These figures, said Michael Haid, vice president of Talent Management for Right Management, suggest that workplace stress is at an unusually high level.

"It would be foolhardy for management to dismiss employees' complaints because a perception of stress impairs engagement, and that is a core issue that impacts productivity and the bottom line," Haid said.

What's causing this heightened stress? Haid believes it's a number of factors, from the continuing volatile employment market with cutbacks, leaner staffing and weaker job market to the increasingly relentless pressure on companies—and their employees—to perform at higher and higher levels. "This survey, as well as others we have recently conducted," Haid explained, "leaves little doubt that people are frustrated and impatient, and this is a problem that won't go away any time soon."

Why should you care? If you're not yet aware of the significant impact stress can have on your employees' health and engagement with their work, you need to get educated. "Stress can significantly impact an employee's health and well-being," Haid said.

Yes, some stress or tension can have a productive effect—leading employees to excel, to find creative solutions, and to perform at higher levels. But high stress loads over the long term can cause problems for people—and for the organizations they serve.

The Mayo Clinic reports that long-term exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol can mess with your health, putting you at increased risk for heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment and more. Stress can also make existing conditions worse.

And the costs don't stop with employees' mental and physical well-being. According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress carries an annual price tag for U.S. businesses of more than $300 billion annually, due to increased absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, medical, legal and insurance expenses, and Workers' Compensation payments. Put into perspective, that's 10 times the cost of all strikes combined. And even before these dire results, stress can have an effect on your people's performance, leading them to make mistakes, lose their ability to focus on their work—ultimately causing disengagement, a huge problem for your business's performance.

What can you do about it?

Haid recommended four tips for managers to help employees manage their stress levels. First, you should hold work review meetings to clarify people's priorities and set deadlines. Second, you need to openly and authentically share company performance information. Don't hide things. Third, be sure employees know their role in making the organization successful. And fourth, work to develop flexible practices that will help employees balance their professional and personal lives.

I'd add another tip to help people keep stress under control. Be sure you are acknowledging them. We all know that lots of employees are being forced to do more with less, to take on more job roles and duties. And the pressure hasn't necessarily eased yet.

Remembering to say thank you—and maybe even providing a little extra recognition or reward for employees going above and beyond—can have a big impact on how employees feel about their jobs. And it might even help lighten the load a little bit.

"If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles."   — Doug Larson


Emily Tipping
Editorial Director,


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