It seems everyone I speak with these days is talking about his or her stress. In 2011, stress was described as the “21st century equivalent of the Black Death” For context on this, the Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. It resulted in as many as 200 million deaths in Eurasia and Europe from 1347 to 1351. In 2016, the World Health Organization described stress as the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” and is estimated to cost American businesses up to $500 billion a year.
Stress has eclipsed the epidemic stage and is now a pandemic. Paul Huljich, author of Stress Pandemic: The Lifestyle Solution writes “stress is a fact of human life, but the pandemic levels of stress, stress-related diseases, and lifestyle diseases that we are seeing today are abnormal by historical standards and certainly not desirable.”
Chronic Stress is bad for our health. According to the American Psychological Association, “Chronic stress may also cause disease, either because of changes in your body or the overeating, smoking and other bad habits people use to cope with stress.
Stressed employees are bad for business. They cost employers in many ways: absenteeism, presenteeism, disengagement, and turnover. Employers have an obligation to create a workplace where employees can thrive and where their health and wellbeing is improved, not diminished.
Why are employee stressed?
Here are a few reasons your employees may be stressed:
- Bullying. Bullying in unacceptable. All forms of harassment need to be eradicated to create a healthy thriving workplace. Establishing ways for employee to confidentially report bullying is a first step. Employers need to provide a systematic approach to bringing bullying out into the open is required.
- Excessive workloads. This is one area where I’m constantly hearing as a source of stress. Employees have difficulty setting boundaries when managers are texting and emailing after hours. A culture that encourages long work hours to manage the workload is impeding productivity and threatening employee wellbeing.
- Caregiver fatigue. A common source of stress is caregiving responsibilities, whether it is children, elders or pets. Employers can provide benefits such as backup daycare support to help relieve that stress.
- Financial stress. Financial stress is another common concern. This can manifest from college loans, unfunded retirement, or inability to manage debt. Employers can provide financial education services that will help teach money management skills to help employees improve their financial wellbeing.
- Uncertainty and lack of job security. Perceived job insecurity is linked to poor health outcomes. The concern about possibly getting laid off, feeling ambiguity, or feeling powerless. This can be caused by lack of transparency in a workplace about the company’s financial situation or when rumors are left unaddressed by management. Employers can focus on communications practices that help employees feel more confident about the situation.
Employers have for years been supporting approaches to managing stress (yoga classes, mindfulness, etc.). These approaches are important for ongoing individual wellbeing. But offering these approaches, without addressing the root cause of the stress is fruitless.
Stress may never go away, but organizations that take an active and well-communicated approach to understanding the causes, and address them will have a much more loyal, engaged and appreciative workforce.