Not all stress is created equal. There are healthy levels of stress that can be highly motivating and push employees to rise to workplace challenges. But too much stress produces diminishing returns in the long run. In a quickly evolving working environment, employees are confronted daily with increases to their workloads, changes to teams and promotion structures, ineffectual or unsympathetic management, and various day-to-day elements of working life—which can all lead to stress.
This is especially important for HR professionals to recognize. High stress leads to low productivity and strategic human resource management aides in alleviating some of that stress—like ensuring employees are not too pressed on deadlines—will turn out to be beneficial to the employee, the manager, and the business, which will see the financial results in the long-term.
The Economics of Stress Management
For many HR professionals, stress is recognized as a serious wellness issue. In a December 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), stress and mental illness were identified by HR professionals as their top employee health concerns.
The impacts of workplace stress are numerous. Stress has the potential to cause headaches, anxiety, substance abuse, high blood pressure, obesity, exhaustion, heart disease, and diabetes.
It is no secret that stress and depression are linked, as research suggests. Stress is both a mental and physical phenomenon. When we are overstressed, the body releases chemicals that compromise the immune system. It comes as no surprise then that stress, depression, and other mental illnesses are the primary causes of workplace absences, according to SHRM.
Factors like low job control, job insecurity, a lack of social support, work-family conflicts, and high-job demands have all been identified as potential causes of stress and depression.
According to SHRM, stress is the number-one cause of long-term absences—more than physical injuries such as neck pain, repetitive strain injuries, and acute illnesses like cancer and heart attacks.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 18.8 million American adults—9.5 percent of the adult population—will suffer from depression or a depressive illness. In any three-month time period, an employee struggling with a depressive condition will miss, on average, 4.8 workdays, resulting in 11.5 days of significantly reduced productivity on the job. It is estimated that depression will cause 200 million lost work days each year, costing employers between $17 and $44 billion in lost productivity.
There are many other impacts besides this staggering loss in productivity. High-stress levels lead to other negative, less tangible side effects, including employment disengagement, apathy, and high turnover and attrition—which all have economic consequences of their own.
When human resource planning involves employee engagement ideas that combat depression at its source, it will not only save the company money in lost work days, but also motivate employees to work more efficiently through the support and aide of colleagues and supervisors—helping the business to achieve a larger return on employee investment.
What Can Be Done About Stress
There are certain occupations that are associated with more demanding workloads and higher levels of stress. HR professionals need to prioritize stress management in those industries, especially the service industries. While reducing the workload may not be an option, there are a number of stress management options companies can pursue to improve their employees’ quality of life, reduce stress, and save money.
Many companies establish some form of wellness program. Typically, these programs include resources employees can access that promote healthy living habits such as dietary suggestions, exercise programs, and discounts or incentives at a partnering gym. Such programs enable employees to manage their own time and schedules and juggle the demands of various workload responsibilities.
One possible benefit from employing such a system is the ability to offer flexible work arrangements—by far the most significant factor in reducing stress. Some companies already offer flex time options, or “being there” time—a time management strategy that recognizes an employee’s obligations outside of work. Usually, flex time comes as a set number of hours that can be used at the discretion of an employee a few hours at a time, empowering him to attend his child’s school play or ballet recital. HR software solutions allow employees to log their own hours and track projects independently. Not only does this reduce stress, it improves productivity and employee engagement.
Time Management Leads to Stress Management
There are myriad ways a business can implement a flexible work arrangement, and the demands of a specific business will dictate the type and amount of flexibility that is available. Whether they organize a weekly lunch outing to destress employees or provide greater flex time options, effectively managing time will translate to a happier, less stressed employee—which in turn means good things for the business itself.
By changing mindsets about how a workload is distributed and tackled by employees, businesses can dramatically reduce stress by restoring control to an employee’s life—a trust that many employees will be grateful for and work hard to maintain.