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Preparing for Times of Increased Employee Stress


Stress in the workplace is the leading health concern for Canadian employers. Stress leads to disengagement, decreased productivity, and an increase in sick leave.

It is important to note that this concern is not only relegated to stressors originating from within the office, but that outside stressors also play as large a role in employees’ anxiety levels.

Panic caused by national crisis such as the recent Ebola outbreak or the tragic shootings in Ottawa will impact your team, and HR must be prepared. With preparation and forethought, you can reduce the effects of external stressors on your office, even if you do not have a formal stress-reduction program in place.

Awareness is the first step.

Ensure that everyone in a supervisory role is aware of the common signs of stress.

Some signs employees may exhibit:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Decline in performance
  • Changes in attitude (such as increased irritability and jumpiness)
  • Physical ailments/requesting more sick leave
  • Lateness

It is also important to understand how an increase in employee stress levels will negatively affect the general work environment and how to respond productively.

Anxiety makes it difficult to focus, so employees will be distracted from work, and this will affect overall productivity. Proactively addressing employees’ fears, offering reassurance, and establishing open dialogue are essential tactics to help them stay focused on the job.

General stress at work often leads to a rise in human error and miscommunication. Encourage employees to slow down, breathe, and double-check their work, so as to minimize the potential for mistakes.

When tensions run high, conflict may arise from a breakdown in employee communication. It becomes especially vital to prepare those in supervisory roles to act as mediators and a voice of reason.

SHRM has provided a helpful PowerPoint presentation on the topic of conflict resolution education for supervisors.

You can also empower employees to help manage and regulate their own stress in times of crisis by sharing with them with these tips from the HR Business & Legal Resources library:

  1. Know yourself. Be aware of your stress level and the things that stress you out. Learn your own signals and pay attention to them. For example, if you’re always late to work and feel stressed and anxious, change your pattern and find a way to leave more time.
  2. Recognize how you deal with stress. Do you turn to unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, or eating poorly? Do you lose patience with coworkers or family members when you feel overwhelmed at work?
  3. Set rules for devices. Consider rules like turning off the cell phone when you get home or establishing certain times for returning calls. Be sure to communicate these rules with others so you can manage expectations. 
  4. Keep a to-do list. It’s stressful to constantly think of things that you should be doing. Clear your head by putting those thoughts in writing. Divide out “work” and “nonwork” tasks and indicate those with the highest priority. 
  5. Take responsibility. Acknowledging that you are responsible for your own stress levels can be an important step. No matter what the sources of stress (bad boss, too much work, too little time, etc.), the issue comes down to how you react to them.
  6. Take a break. It may not seem like much, but a short (1- or 2- minute) break several times a day can help you stay energized and productive. Stand up, stretch, breathe deeply, and clear your head. Every few hours, pause for 10 minutes to recharge. And avoid the temptation to work through lunch.
  7. Take care. You’ve heard it before, but it really does help—eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly. No matter how hectic life gets at work or at home, you’ve got to make time for yourself. If a vacation isn’t in the offing, carve out time for a hobby or a good book.
  8. Change your head. If negative thinking is causing stress, work to break the pattern. If trying to do everything to perfection is the problem, try to modify your expectations, realizing that unrealistic goals are going to set you up for failure—and undue stress. 
  9. Learn to manage conflict. It’s easier said than done, but resolving conflict in a healthy, constructive way can help relieve work stress. Focus on the present, avoid the temptation to dive into old resentments, and listen to what the other person is really saying.
  10. Ask for help.  Accepting help from supportive friends and family members can help you better manage your stress. Take advantage of employer-based services like an EAP, counselling, work/life balance programs, or referrals to mental health professionals

In times of crisis, it is important to band together and work as a team and being prepared to care for employees during times of high stress is an essential part of maintaining a positive and effective workplace.



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