A Proactive HR Approach To Workplace Stress Management


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A Presentation to Human Resources Committee of a local Chamber of Commerce to illustrate the "big picture" of organizational development approaches to managing stress in the workplace.

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A Proactive HR Approach To Workplace Stress Management

  1. 1. A Proactive HR Approach to Workplace Stress Management Bernie McCann, CEAP Employee Assistance Program, Inc.
  2. 2. Today’s Employees – Stressed, Worried & Fearful • Many US workers say they are working harder than a year ago, have more stress at work, and less job security. • People have not seen any increase in salaries, benefits or other rewards and fear they might not have the kind of life or retirement they once envisioned. • Jobs that once motivated people are no longer enough – people want more out of life and more out of their jobs.
  3. 3. Stress Management: Can we beat the odds?  Job stress is estimated to cost US employers more than $300 billion annually in absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and health care costs.  Stress causes over 1 million people to miss work every day;  Health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress;  Stress-related claims
  4. 4. The American Institute of Stress says:  43% of working adults suffer some type of stress- related health effects; an equal number report losing 1 hour or more a day in productivity due to stress  Only 13% of workers surveyed say they can finish all the work they need to do in a typical day;  Nearly half of survey respondents reported that their employer interrupted holidays and sickness absence with questions relating to work.
  5. 5. Stressed Out or Bored?  Two lines of research have characterized the study of organizational environment on workers and work performance: 1) the negative stress perspective, and 2) the well being perspective.  Proponents of the negative stress perspective argue that work performance is hindered by stress (too much challenge) or boredom (too little challenge).  Thus a truly healthy workforce is one with both an absence of negative stressors and a challenging, engaging work environment.
  6. 6. The Stress Response  Stress is an elevation in a person's state of arousal or readiness, caused by some stimulus or demand. Initially, as arousal increases, health and performance can actually improve – thus, within manageable levels, stress can help sharpen our attention and mobilize our bodies to cope with challenging and/or threatening situations.  However, at some point, stress arousal reaches maximum effect. Once it does, all the performance that was gained by arousal is then lost and deterioration of health and performance begins.
  7. 7. Stressors and Stress Outcomes Work Individual Stressors: Differences Consequences Physical of Stress: environment Physiological Role-related Behavioral Interpersonal Psychological Organizational Stress Organizational Non work Stressors
  8. 8. Workplace Stress  So for adults, our employment is supposed to be both fulfilling & rewarding, right…?  However, when the workplace turns from meeting peoples’ needs to a toxic environment, this becomes a negative stress response.  These negative stress responses can be either acute or chronic; minor or serious.
  9. 9. Notice the Signs of Stress  Paying attention to employees will help identify if they are experiencing negative stress responses. Some of the more obvious signs may include:  Changes in behavior – irritability, isolation, moodiness, aggression  Increased conflicts with coworkers, managers and family members  A decrease in productivity, inattention to deadlines  An increase in sick leave, absences, tardiness, or “presenteeism”
  10. 10. Stressful Work Situations  Low level of management/co-worker social support  Lack of input into decisions; Low control over job tasks  Repetitive tasks or machine-paced work  Shift work; especially rotating shifts  Ineffective or autocratic supervision  Poor relations with co-workers; Frequent conflicts  Lack of opportunities/promotions; Job insecurity  Excessive overtime demands  Misrepresentation of job duties, expectations
  11. 11. Efforts to Impact Stressors  Primary – Those efforts which actually remove stressors or modify workplace conditions which cause stress responses  Secondary – Training and awareness raising to minimize negative effects of stress;  Tertiary – Providing access to EAP/counseling services, both for routine stress, work/life issues and especially after traumatic workplace events
  12. 12. The Work – Home Conflict  Anyone who hasn’t noticed the tectonic shifts in workplace demographics over the past few decades hasn’t been paying attention. The huge increase in two-earner families has particularly impacted the potential conflict between work vs. home/family responsibilities.  Many workers are struggling to juggle these often competing demands – some ideas to ease the pressure:  Give employees comp days when appropriate  Be flexible with work schedules  Give time off for special (i.e., family) occasions  Support for telecommuting when appropriate
  13. 13. Employees and Well-being  The second line of research on work performance emphases the health benefits of positive feelings and perceptions.  A healthy work force means the presence of positive feelings in the worker makes them happier and more productive. These positive workplace feelings are associated with higher customer loyalty, higher profitability, higher productivity, and lower rates of turnover.
  14. 14. It’s no Accident…  Healthy, successful, stress-free work environments don't happen by accident. Research has identified particular organizational aspects which can impact the workplace, either positively or negatively:  Workload  Control  Rewards  Values  Community  Fairness
  15. 15. Workload & Control  Workload - The amount of work to be done in a given time. A manageable workload provides the opportunity to do what one enjoys, to pursue career objectives, and to develop professionally. A chronic overload in workload is not a matter of simply stretching to meet a new challenge, but ultimately of going beyond human limits.  Control - The opportunity to make choices and decisions, to successfully solve problems, and to contribute to the desired outcome. A good match occurs when there is a connection between control and accountability. A mismatch occurs when people lack sufficient control to fulfill the tasks/responsibilities for which they are held accountable.
  16. 16. Fairness & Rewards  Fairness - The extent to which the organization has consistent and equitable rules for everyone. An important element is how resources are allocated according to generally understood and consistent procedures. Fairness communicates respect for the members of an organization's community. A lack of fairness indicates confusion in an organization's values and in its relationships with people.  Reward – Recognition, both financial and social for ones’ contributions on the job. Meaningful rewards acknowledge contributions and provide clear indications of what the organization values. People experience a lack of recognition as devaluing their work and themselves.
  17. 17. Values & Community  Values - Values are what is important to the work organization and its members. When organizational and personal values are congruent, successes are shared. Mismatches occur with differences between the values of an organization and its staff, or if the organization does not practice its stated values.  Community - The quality of an organization's social environment. People thrive in communities characterized by support, collaboration, and positive feelings. Mismatches occur when there is no sense of positive connection with others at work.
  18. 18. What employees want from work Results from Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For”
  19. 19. Employee Engagement  Employee engagement is a combination of cognitive and emotional variables in the workplace that generate a higher frequency of job satisfaction, commitment, joy, fulfillment.  Employee engagement has a positive affect on employee retention, creativity, productivity and ultimately, a resistance to negative stress response.
  20. 20. Happy Workers = Happy Customers  There is a definite link between happy employees and happy customers. Satisfied and contented employees will do everything they can to keep customers satisfied -- and happy customers mean repeat business and ongoing revenue streams.  According to the Harvard Business Review, a 5% reduction in customer defection translates into between 30% and 85% increase in corporate profitability
  21. 21. Feedback  Feedback is a critical component in motivating and developing employees, and essential for attracting and retaining high performers. An eagerness to constantly do better is one of the character traits that defines high performing, engaged workers.  Feedback and coaching are the fuels that drive that need, pushing everyone on your team to execute at a higher level. They also play an essential role in learning and development. A small change in behavior will often lead to a big improvement in performance.
  22. 22. Coaching is the new Paradigm  The traditional management approach of hierarchal command and top down control – is rapidly becoming obsolete. Today, many employees have IT and communications systems at their fingertips and they can increasingly use these to manage themselves.  Management needs to provide guidance and support, not to control employees by barking out commands that must be followed  “Coaching” workers for high performance has become the new management paradigm.
  23. 23. Putting it all Together  Managing workplace stress at the organization level is a multi- dimensional challenge.  Such efforts can often be overwhelming, its difficult to know where to start, and what activities will bring the best return on investment.  Careful assessment of the work organization’s strengths and weaknesses will be critical.
  24. 24. Keys to Successful Programs  Conduct enough research to understand what aspects of the current work load, benefits structure, and organizational culture are contributing to a positive or negative workplace environment.  Seek senior management support and involvement;  Include employees and managers in design and implementation;  Keep initiatives and programs simple and easy to administer;  Tailor the activities to identified goals, needs, and desires to ensure a visible and measurable impact.