THE WORK STRESS PROBLEM
What Actually is Work Stress?
Stress is a physical and/or emotional reaction to a situation. In a work context, stress happens when we believe that the demands made of us exceed our resources to deal with them. However, work stress is about much more than demands. It's rooted in context around those demands.
So What? Why is Work Stress Problematic? Doesn't Everyone Face Work Stress?
Yes. And that's why some leaders think there's nothing we can do about it. However, no-one would make the same argument about fear. We ask people "what are you scared of?" because we want to (1) identify the problem, (2) find its root cause, and (3) deal with it. What are we scared of when it comes to doing the same with work stress?
Isn't Some Stress Good?
That's true - some stress is needed to be sharp, and to perform well. But this conveniently covers over two gigantic problems: Too much stress is problematic, and some types of stressors at work are just downright hindrances to performance, goal achievement, healthy work, and employee retention.
Why is This My problem as a Leader?
According to The American Institute of Stress, 65% of workers say that workplace stress causes difficulties, and more than 10% said their work stress causes severe problems. ZipRecruiter's latest poll from December 2022, "Too much stress" was the #1 reason why employees left their organization, ranking well above other concerns, such as insufficient pay, wanting more time away from work, and inconvenient location. These are people who were carefully (and expensively) hired.
More broadly, acute (very high) or chronic (ongoing) stress is estimated to cost the US economy over $300B a year through ill-health, absenteeism, poor performance, lost productivity, and unwanted turnover. As well as costing the individuals in question, how much is this costing your organization?
Research shows that each incidence of employee turnover costs between 60 and 200% of the employee salary to replace them with an equally or more productive person. But if none of the root causes of why they left have been dealt with, it's an ongoing churn of "wash, rinse, repeat". In addition to the expense, unnecessary stress and unwanted turnover create roadblocks to organizations reaching their goals. Why wait until this happens (again)?
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Shouldn't People Just Squeeze a Stress Ball at Their Desk?
Go for it. Here's the problem: This may help temporarily manage a symptom, but it won't touch the cause. Most articles on work stress tell employees what they can do to lower it, but evidently the problems aren't going away. That's because most advice is like a band-aid covering up root causes of excessive work stress. The good news is that many of these causes are under your control as an organizational leader. There is a great interplay between science and practicality behind lowering work stress, and it's very practical, and implementable. With just a few changes to the design of work, you can improve working culture, employee retention, and your bottom line by tackling root causes of excessive work stress.
So Who Are You, and What Can You Do About It?
My name is Dr. Marcus J. Fila. I am a former senior executive search consultant-turned speaker, management consultant, and researcher who is dedicated to helping leaders like you reduce excessive stress and unwanted turnover. You can read more about me here.