A Proactive HR Approach To Workplace Stress Management
A Proactive HR
Bernie McCann, CEAP
Employee Assistance Program, Inc.
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.
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
Health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater
for workers who report high levels of stress;
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.
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
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
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.
Stressors and Stress Outcomes
Physical of 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
These negative stress
responses can be either acute
or chronic; minor or serious.
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,
Increased conflicts with coworkers, managers and
A decrease in productivity, inattention to deadlines
An increase in sick leave, absences, tardiness, or
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
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
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
Employees and Well-being
The second line of research on
work performance emphases the
health benefits of positive feelings
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
What employees want from work
Results from Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For”
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.
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
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.
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
“Coaching” workers for high
performance has become the new
Putting it all Together
Managing workplace stress at
the organization level is a multi-
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.
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
Keep initiatives and programs simple and easy to
Tailor the activities to identified goals, needs, and
desires to ensure a visible and measurable impact.