Work-related stress can have a number of causes, including fear-based cultures that leave employees anxious about their performance, ineffective or insufficiently trained leadership, unmanageable workloads, and unaddressed relational issues between colleagues.
Moreover, stress directly affects work quality and productivity: 53% of Americans say stress dampens their productivity in the workplace (MHS), and workers experiencing high levels of stress may be more liable to commit errors in their work (RoSPA).
So how can you improve your workplace culture, reduce stress, and boost productivity all at the same time? Start with these six steps:
1. Make room for white space.
Creating white space is about more than taking an occasional break — it’s about committing to taking intentional pauses before and after meetings or between tasks for thoughtful reflection. Make white space a part of your organization’s culture. Communicate its value and encourage employees to make it part of their work day.
White space is so important in our daily life that Juliet Funt — one of our past speakers at the Fierce Summit — created Whitespace at Work. Her firm provides solutions for organizations wanting to avoid burnout and maximize the amount of unscheduled time employees have to simply think and strategize. To quote Funt, “When a company adds WhiteSpace to its culture, every single employee benefits. You can almost hear an audible sigh of relief as a path is cleared for strategic thinking and focus.”
2. Deliver what employees really want.
Avoid making assumptions about what employees want. While happy hours and an office pool table may be great additions, these types of perks only scratch the surface of what are much less superficial needs. Surveys reveal that today’s workforce craves a sense of purpose and meaning, development opportunities, and work-life balance.
If you want your workplace culture to be successful, building emotional capital and trust across your organization is essential. Ask questions to gain understanding, have coaching conversations, and listen intently. Support the need for personal and professional growth by providing learning opportunities.
3. Assess workloads and employee capacity.
Approximately 46% of employee stress is caused by excessive workloads. This is a pervasive problem in many organizations, and one that needs to be addressed. Excessive workloads can cause issues at all levels of an organization, burdening leadership, teams, and individuals.
This step probably doesn’t sit well with organizations that are trying to accomplish a lot with very few resources . While maximizing employee capacity can be beneficial, especially in times of transition, overburdening employees with massive workloads isn’t worth saving a dollar when stress takes over your culture. If bringing on an extra hire or perhaps a freelancer can help alleviate some of the burdens, strongly consider making this investment.
4. Allow mental health days.
52% of workers say their company does not do enough to promote employee health, including mental health. Whether you call them “mental health days” or simply allow them to be a part of existing sick days, it’s essential to honor the need for recovery and downtime. If an employee feels exhausted after completing an extensive project, it will be better for productivity overall if they’re able to take some time to regenerate…and return to work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
In a healthy culture, there is no shame in employees recognizing when they need a break and asking for one. The alternative is dire — stressed-out team members who don’t feel comfortable asking for what they need, resulting in subpar performance, and ultimately leaving your organization.
5. Make it about the journey, not the destination.
We’re all on a journey, both individually and collectively, and strong leaders will support their teams as needed. Offer avenues for growth as part of this journey rather than placing all of the focus on outcomes.
In a Deloitte survey, 82% of respondents said making a workplace error causes stress. This creates a vicious cycle — errors cause stress, and then stress leads to more error. If employees anticipate some form of punishment or feel they have no wiggle room to experiment or make mistakes, culture will suffer, innovation and creativity will suffer, and stress levels will rise. As a leader, you have to be willing to allow employees, and yourself, to fail. Failure is part of taking risks, and it’s an important part of how we learn and grow.
6. Make conversation training a priority.
Work-related stress is a major factor in whether people like their jobs or not. A survey from About.com found that among the top three reasons why people do not like their jobs, 62% of responses were communication-related. Communication frustration leads to an unsatisfied workforce.
When problems remain unaddressed, they show up in our lives as stress. If leaders don’t know how to have authentic and effective conversations to address issues, this weighs on individuals, teams, and cultures.
One way to ensure that leadership has the know-how to have the conversations that matter is to implement organization-wide conversations training. Conversation that’s competent, skillful, and effective is a powerful resource in business, and it’s critical for solving your toughest challenges.
For the sake of culture, health, and productivity, take the necessary steps to reduce stress in your organization and get rid of fear-based practices now — before larger issues arise that are harder or even impossible to repair. Doing so will lead to positive results in relationships, revenue, and overall employee satisfaction.
If your organization has yet to roll out a conversations training program, you can still get a head start on the conversations you need to start having today.
Learn more in our infographic: 7 Self-Care Ideas for the Workplace