How employers can help manage workplace stress


While occasional, light stress can be good, helping us achieve that goal, finish that project and overcome obstacles – too much stress is detrimental to our health, both physical and mental. Learn how you can recognize workplace stress in individual members of your team, and how you can help them overcome much of the anxiety.

According to OSHA, workplace stress can negatively affect employees through:

  • Job performance
  • Productivity
  • Work engagement and communication
  • Physical capability and daily functioning

Identifying workplace stress

Employees are constantly faced with new stressors introduced to the workplace. These new stressors often amplify other issues at work. More than 80 percent of US workers have reported experiencing workplace stress, and more than 50 percent believe their stress related to work impacts their life at home. Workplace stressors may include:

  • Concerns about job security (potential lay-offs, reductions in assigned hours)
  • Concerns about work performance and productivity
  • No access to tools and equipment needed to safely do the job
  • Working more frequent or extended shifts or being unable to take adequate breaks
  • Physically demanding work
  • Fear of employer retaliation
  • Learning new or different tasks or take on more responsibilities
  • Moving to new or different workspace, schedule and/or work rules
  • Confrontation from customers, patients, co-workers, supervisors or employers
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
  • Blurred work-life boundaries, making it hard for workers to disconnect from the office
  • Juggling work while simultaneously caring for children, elders or disabled family members
  • Concerns about public transit safety while commuting

These work-related stressors can take a toll on a person’s sense of well-being, negatively impacting their mental health. They can also contribute to mental health challenges such as anxiety disorder, depression or substance use disorders.

Related: 5 Ways HR Can Support Employees’ Mental Health

How employers can help

According to a 2021 American Psychological Association study, more than 85 percent of employees said actions by their employer would help their mental health.

What can employers do? The goal is to find ways to alleviate or remove workplace stressors as much as possible, create coping and resiliency support, and ensure that employees needing help know where to turn. Reducing workplace stress can improve morale. It can lead to increased productivity and better focus, fewer workplace injuries, fewer sick days and improved physical health (e.g., lower blood pressure, stronger immune system). All these factors can also lead to reduced employee turnover.

The World Health Organization estimates that for every dollar U.S. employers spend treating common mental health issues, they receive a $4 return in improved health and productivity. You can make a difference when it comes to helping your teams manage stress. Here are a few key actions that OSHA and SHRM recommend:

  • Be aware that people carry an emotional load that is unique to their own circumstances. They may be experiencing heightened levels of loneliness, isolation, uncertainty, grief and stress. Some may face additional demands, such as caring for children or elderly household members; others may be dealing with existing mental health or substance use challenges.
  • Identify factors impeding workers from getting their jobs done. What adjustments can be made?
  • Show empathy. Ensure workers that 1) they are not alone, 2) their employer understands their stress, 3) there’s no shame in feeling anxious, and 4) asking for help is important.  Reassure your employees that you’re open and receptive to discussions about their work stress. Work to create a safe and trustworthy space.
  • Provide access to coping and resiliency resources, workplace and leave flexibilities without penalty, or other supportive networks and services. The American Psychological Association says 50 percent of employees say a lack of paid time off or sick leave increases stress levels at work.
  • Encourage employees to take advantage of wellness tips or programs, stress management webinars, yoga or meditation classes. Set an example by using these resources yourself.
  • Ensure workers take regular breaks; be sure to take them yourself.
  • Encourage employees to de-stress by exercising daily, taking time for friends or a significant other after work, pursuing hobbies, listening to music and taking time off.
Related: Follow these best practices for employee recognition

OSHA provides the following resources to help employers identify stressors and provide ways to help employees manage or overcome workplace stress:

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