Workplace Stress Hurts Performance. Here's How to Stop It

By Emily Roner | Updated: 19 Sep, 2018

An Attitudes in the American Workplace survey found that 80% of workers experience workplace stress. This issue has a significant impact on your business’s bottom line. Stressed out employees have:

  • Higher turnover
  • Higher absenteeism
  • Lower productivity
  • Increased medical costs

These symptoms cause preventable increases in labor costs and declines in employee performance. To address this issue, leaders must proactively resolve triggers before they have significant effects on employee productivity. 

According to the American Institute of Stress, there are four primary causes of workplace stress:

  1. Workload
  2. People Issues
  3. Balancing Personal/Work life
  4. Lack of Job Security

Most of your employees are experiencing one or more of these. As a leader, you must take action to alleviate those issues to enable your team to perform their best.


Help Employees Cope with Their Stressful Workloads

The first step figuring out the underlying reason why employees are stressed with their workload. Is it because their deadlines are too tight or that they cannot work at your organization’s pace? Use benchmarks from employees in your organization or from others to determine if they should reasonably be able to complete their projects on time.

If your references also struggled to keep up, either hire another employee or contractor to lighten the demands on your team or extend their deadlines. However, if bench-marking reveals that your employees should be able to meet their deadlines without too much difficulty then, you need to help them to better manage their stress.

Here are some ways to help your employee better cope with their workload:

  • Coach them on how to use more effective time management strategies. Often, employees aren’t stressed because they have too much work but rather because they have lots of tasks to complete and don’t know how to budget their time effectively. If you think someone struggles with this, sit them down one-on-one and ask them to walk through their day-to-day schedule with you. If it sounds disorganized and/or inefficient, give them suggestions to better plan their days.

Read more: 5 Time Management Strategies that Will Unlock Your Productivity

  • Teach them how to complete tasks more efficiently. Some employees are organized but are still stressed out by their deadlines because they work too slowly. If you suspect that’s the case, have them use a time-tracking tool such as Toggl for a week, identify the tasks they’re wasting the most time on, then coach them on how to complete those items faster.
  • Give them access to better tools. If none of the above issues are holding your employees back, check if they are equipped to complete the projects you’re asking them to do. If they’re using software or equipment that is several years old, you can’t expect them to perform their best. Investing in resources for your employees can dramatically boost their performance and lower their stress levels.

When strong employees are equipped with the right knowledge and tools, they overcome workplace stress and develop a positive attitude towards work.

 Read more: 6 Office Productivity Hacks to Boost Employee Performance


Resolve Frustrating People Issues

Conflicts between employees are inevitable. When you force people who have little in common, different values, and clashing personalities to spend 40+ hours a week working together, it can create workplace stress. If left unresolved, interpersonal issues can become so tense that employees dread going to work just because they have to deal with the coworker they don’t like. To prevent people's issues from hurting productivity, address them as soon as they come to your attention.

Before digging into the emotional side of interpersonal issues, you must first determine if it’s an objective issue or a personal one. If it’s objective, for example, someone is failing to meet their deadlines and holding someone else back, they’re withholding critical information or resources, they’re harassing another individual, etc. your initial attempt to resolve the problem is simple: gather all the facts and, if warranted, take disciplinary action against the individuals involved.

However, it’s a personal conflict, your approach must be more nuanced. To save time, first, evaluate if there is a value-driving reason those individuals need to work together. If there isn’t, let them work separately. Following the separation, closely monitor the individuals involved.

As quickly as possible, determine if the issue was just a clash between those people or if anyone has a personality that doesn’t fit your culture and will continue to create incite workplace stress. If the individuals must continue working together, try these strategies to help them improve their relationship:

  • Host mediation sessions. Have yourself, or someone from HR, sit down with the quarreling individuals and facilitate a discussion that lets both people share their side of the conflict. Help them work through their core issues and create compromises that will enable them to work more cohesively.
  • Have employees take personality tests. Though personality tests can’t encapsulate people’s entire character, they serve as a guide to help employees better understand each other’s personalities. Many conflicts stem from people being offended by comments and behaviors that are ingrained in the other person’s character and aren’t meant to be personal. For example, people with direct communication styles can be seen as rude even though nothing they say is offensive - they just don’t use the social niceties that some people expect.
  • Encourage more interdepartmental socialization. If you have a culture where people tend only to socialize with their team members, it can exacerbate the stress from interpersonal conflicts because people feel like they can’t get a break from the coworkers they don’t like. Encouraging inter-departmental socialization by introducing people from different teams, creating common areas in between multiple team’s spaces, holding lunch mixers, etc. makes it easier for friendships to form within your organization.

Keep in mind that a sense of community is essential to retention and productivity. Thus, resolving employees’ stressful interpersonal issues is worth the time investment.

Enable Work/Life Balance

There is no logical reason to force employees to work long hours and deprive them of their work-life balance. Research shows that after six weeks of working sixty hours, employee productivity drops to the equivalent of working forty hours or less due to their fatigue and frustration.

Having a poor work/life balance is a significant source of workplace stress because it continually forces people to choose between their loved ones and their source of income.

Here are some ways to improve your employee’s work/life balance:

  • Coach your employees on time management strategies. Work/life balance issues often go hand-in-hand with workload stress. People feel their responsibilities piling up, and it has adverse effects on their personal lives. Teaching your team time management strategies will save them hours every week that they can invest in the people and activities that matter most to them.
  • Let people leave early after they meet their weekly or monthly goals. TED Global speaker and business leader Ricardo Semler says instead of paying attention to how many hours people work, his company sets measurable goals for all of his employees and, once they meet them, they can do whatever they want until the next goal period starts. The potential for extra time off incentivizes people to reach their goals faster, improves work/life balance, and lowers stress.
  • Give employees a few days off to resolve major personal issues. If a loved one was in a major accident or something terrible happened to their kid, or they just got diagnosed with a medical problem or another tragedy occurs, they’re not going to be able to focus at work. Your employees will be much more productive if you give them a couple of days to cope before returning to work.
  • Encourage your employees to work flexible hours. Being able to work flexible hours is key to work/life balance. While many companies offer flexible work hours, many employees don’t feel comfortable taking it because their company’s culture emphasizes staying long hours and they don’t want to look uncommitted. To remedy this, have leaders set the example and personally encourage your team members to shift their schedules to accommodate other priorities like eating dinner with their kids or volunteering.

Ultimately, achieving work/life balance looks different for everyone. In addition to following these suggestions, ask each of your subordinates how you can best support them and follow up with reasonable accommodations.

 Pro Tip: Dealing with an overwhelming number of emails is a major reason why employees struggle to attain work-life balance. Help employees overcome this by encouraging them to create an inbox management system.

Our free inbox management guide teaches people how to dramatically reduce the amount of time they spend on email while preventing important messages from slipping through the cracks. 

Download This Guide


Give Your Employees the Skills to Cope with Job Insecurity

Since the last recession, job insecurity has been a significant source of workplace stress and frustration. This issue is the most difficult to resolve because it can be impossible to notice who is experiencing it and, if your company’s structure fluctuates with the market, there is no direct solution.

While you may not be able to offer job security, you can give your employees the skills to cope with it. Here’s how:

  • Invest in mentoring and talent development. Confidence is often a byproduct of competence. Giving your employees the advice, knowledge, and experiences they need to succeed at your company and beyond may provide them with the peace of mind that they are capable of being successful regardless of their position at your company. If this isn’t the case, then you may want to seek out higher performing individuals to whom this point applies.
  • Make your employees feel valued. A lot of job insecurity stems from employees’ fear that their employers don’t value their contributions and may replace them. Regularly taking time in your meetings to recognize individual accomplishments can resolve this concern for the well-performing individuals that you want to retain.
  • Be transparent about your company’s health. If your employees don’t know how your company is performing, something as simple as a firing or two due to performance issues can spark rumors that there are going to be widespread, budget-driven layoffs. Keeping your entire organization up-to-date on key financial metrics ensures everyone knows their likelihood of retention and can ask questions about their status as the health of the company evolves. Providing employees with this kind of access to knowledge significantly reduces their stress since they can prepare for what’s to come.

Read more: How to Maintain Focus and Loyalty During Organizational Change

Remember: stressed out employees hurt your company’s bottom line. Watch for consistent signs of workplace stress and use these strategies to resolve the triggers.


Save Time with an Inbox Management System

Download our free guide for creating an inbox management system that dramatically reduces the amount of time you spend on email and prevents important messages from slipping through the cracks. In it you'll learn: 

  • How to choose a sorting approach 
  • Best practices for creating clear sorting rules 
  • Tips for implementing your inbox management system + productivity hacks 
  • How to delegate your inbox management to an assistant

Download This Guide