ProHR - Strategic Personnel RecruitmentStress is a very real problem in the workplace, and your human resource strategy must address it. Often, stresses are worst for the most sedentary of jobs. Office jobs are very demanding mentally and offer little or no time for physical exertion to work out stresses. On the other hand, labor-intensive jobs can be just as stressful if they push employees beyond their physical limits. In both scenarios, there is a point where employees become less productive and their costs to the company rise.

A Cost-Benefit View of Stress

Every employee represents both revenue and expenses to a company. As long as the revenue they generate exceeds their cost to your company, it’s tempting to think that everything is fine. However, if they could make you more money and cost less than they do, it’s time to make some changes. The concept of opportunity cost applies just as much to people as it does to decision. When employees are so stressed that they make dumb mistakes, work slower, or miss chances to make you money, it is an opportunity cost to you—a missed chance at higher profits.

Employee stress can increase your costs in several ways:

  • More injuries, accidents, and worker’s compensation claims
  • More sick days taken, both for real illnesses or as an escape
  • Reduced work speed, leading to increased per/product costs
  • More mistakes made in billing time or keeping records
  • Decreased attention to product quality, equaling a loss of customers
  • Increased anger at work and more time wasted on arguments

If any of these are common in your company, you are undoubtedly losing a significant amount of money. And without being aware of your employees’ stress levels, you may be completely unaware of these lost profits. A human resources consultant can provide help in determining how high stress levels are and how you might reduce them.

Taking Steps to Reduce Stress

When employees reach a sufficiently high stress level, they literally can’t think anymore. This is called information overload, and it is somewhat like a computer crash. To prevent this, it is important that you feed tasks and information to your employees at a rate they can handle. If your business faces a lot of crucial deadlines, it actually becomes more important to assign tasks more slowly. Your employees will handle the volume faster when it comes to them at a rate they can process, and you will be more likely to meet your deadlines.

Likewise, employees can also overload emotionally. This is a typical result of a negative work climate, which in turn might be a result of either company overload or a bad management style. In such cases, overstressed employees tend to exacerbate the problem because the natural reaction to emotional overload is to become defensive and even belligerent. Temper tantrums, insults, and deliberate disobedience are common in such environments, causing their feelings to spread to others. Even worse, employees may resist efforts to reverse the negativity. This type of stress is much more easily prevented than reduced. There are various strategies to tackle widespread negativity, but most involve taking time off production so that employees can reset emotionally. Managers must take care to keep the work environment positive in order to keep production high.

When employees are stressed to the point that their minds and/or emotions are frozen, they stop thinking creatively. This is when the majority of injuries and accidents happen. Employees may even break equipment because they can’t remember how to operate it correctly. They will repeat the same unproductive actions with increasing force rather than trying something else. This expensive consequence of stress is best reduced by reducing both information overload and emotional negativity. Also, routine training can help employees to remember the correct things to do when deadlines get tight and stress is unavoidable.

Communicating with Stressed Employees

The best way to help a stressed employee is simply to listen to them. It may be useful in your human resource strategy to interview employees regularly. Simply by letting them talk, you help them to de-stress. You may not like what they have to say, particularly if they perceive you as a source of your stress. However, remember that stress is probably affecting your emotions as well as theirs and keep listening. Once they finish, let them know that you respect them. This will go a long way toward reducing negative feelings and stress.

Then, find out what they think will keep the stress off. Unless their request is totally unreasonable, consider it. In a stressful environment, managers are often afraid to let go of control, but that may be just the thing they need to do to prevent stress from returning. The crucial difference between humans and other resources is that they can think for themselves—let them! They know their jobs and they value your company. When they feel relaxed and trusted, they will give the job their full effort.