In an “always-on” digital age, stress can affect workers in every type of business. The results can be harmful, from personal turmoil to professional burnout. Business owners and managers must take a proactive approach to workplace stress by understanding its causes, working to remove workplace stressors, and compassionately supporting workers who are stressed.

When workers operate under serious strain, they pose a systemic risk to the entire businesses. Their productivity may sag and work quality can become erratic. At the same time, the likelihood these workers come into conflict with their colleagues inside the firm and partners and clients outside the firm increases dramatically. In severe cases, overstressed workers may develop serious health problems that take a financial and emotional toll on businesses.

Instead of allowing workplace stress to fester and result in these serious consequences, business owners should find a better way. They should work to adjust the structure and expectations of their workplace to create a supporting environment that encourages success instead of stress. This goes beyond simply putting in place new policies; in many cases, a shift in mindset is needed to tackle the challenge of workplace stress head on.

Signs of stress in the workplace

Stress in the workplace can manifest itself in many ways. Workplace stress is medically defined as a condition that results from an imbalance between the demands placed on someone and their ability to cope; thus, the degree of stress and the reaction to it varies dramatically from employee to employee. Examples of stress in an individual can include depression or feelings of depression, increased moodiness, difficulty concentrating or focusing, and significant deviations from normal behavior.

In addition to those signs in individuals, it is also possible for employers to see signs of stress in the workplace across all employees. Increasing numbers of disputes within the staff, high turnover, more absenteeism, and frequent complaints and grievances can all be signs of stress throughout the workplace. A savvy business owner will be attuned to these signs but, most importantly, will act proactively to prevent workplace stress from festering.

Causes of stress in the workplace

Just as stress has many symptoms, there are also many causes of stress in the workplace. Business owners should consider where changes can be effective in reducing stress in the workplace. Among the factors that can lead to stress are work structure, work environment, management structure and styles, the degree of autonomy given to workers, preparation and training, and demands at work.

Work structure : A muddled management structure, or one where people have conflicting roles, frequently causes stress. A clear hierarchy where everyone feels valued and understands their responsibilities is better.

Work environment : When team members are encouraged to be indifferent to each other, or to behave aggressively, stress often follows. Workplaces need clear expectations for appropriate staff behavior.

Management structure and styles : Connected to work structure, it’s also important all employees have a clear understanding of who they report to. As important, abusive or erratic management practices must be avoided. Where they exist, stress quickly follows.

Autonomy : Employees who are given a wider degree of autonomy are frequently happier and less stressed. Treating employees like robots, or aggressively micromanaging them, often leads to feelings of burnout and stress as workers feel like they have no control over their day-to-day work lives.

Preparation and training : Stress can often be a function of employees feeling that they are in over their heads. Workplaces that establish clear expectations and train workers for the jobs they do experience lower collective stress levels.

Demands at work : As difficult as it may be, business owners must avoid placing unreasonable demands on employees. Insisting that workers have time off and time away from work is essential to preventing stress and burnout.

Reducing stress in the workplace

With this guidance in mind, it’s incumbent on business owners to be proactive leaders who create stress-fighting workplaces. That starts by building a culture that values each and every employee and prioritizes morale and productivity.

All workplace decisions, even those that seem most tangential to workplace stress, should at least be made with consideration for how they might affect employees and increase stress. This sort of approach will prevent problems from festering in a business that can lead to serious repercussions.

Managing work related stress

Even if business owners take proactive steps to address stress in the workplace, employees may still experience work-related stress. That’s why it’s critical that business owners build a compassionate workplace that quickly helps stressed employees, addresses the root causes of their discomfort and, if necessary, connects them to appropriate support such a mental health resources.

Repercussions of work related stress

Work related stress can lead to serious personal and professional issues for workers, as well as open up businesses to declines in productivity, internal and external conflict, and, increasingly, legal liability.

Personal injury lawyers, a particularly aggressive field of attorneys with experience bringing cases against businesses, have zeroed in on workplace stress as an opportunity to sue businesses on behalf of clients that have suffered from working in stressful work environments.

The increasing number of workplace stress claims has its roots in a variety of federal, state, and local labor laws that protect employees from unfair and hostile work environments. When personal injury lawyers are able to prove these workplace stress claims, businesses can be forced to pay very large — even potentially crippling — damages.

Smart business owners understand the potential for workplace stress claims and work proactively to ensure that their businesses provide a supportive environment for staff that minimizes stress. Such an approach is not only compassionate; it is also essential for running a business today.