Why Workplace Stress Can Work Against Your Employees' Productivity

There’s no escaping stress, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Short-term stress, such as the kind employees encounter when working on deadline, can increase creativity and productivity.

But research shows long-term stress not only affects your employees' well-being, it also costs American businesses an estimated $300 billion a year in health care expenses, absenteeism and workplace productivity.

“It’s simple: At first, time, pressure and deadlines have a positive effect on productivity,” says psychiatrist Francoise Adan, MD, medical director of University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network.

“It gives us focus, courage and excitement."

Effects of Long-Term Stress

If the pressure is constant and the stress is not managed, it decreases engagement, initiative and creativity, and increases health care costs.

"Purely mathematically, you really want to have a healthy, productive, creative workforce to be competitive,” Dr. Adan says.

To understand the effect of stress on workers, consider these findings from an American Psychological Association study:

  • 69 percent say their job contributes to their stress levels
  • 50 percent of stressed workers report sleeping half as many hours as those reported by less-stressed workers
  • 60 percent admit stress caused a lack of productivity in the last month
  • An estimated 1 million people miss work each day because of stress

Health care costs for employees with increased stress levels are 46 percent higher than those for less-stressed staff members, says The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Additionally, work-related stress is the leading workplace health problem and a major occupational health risk, says research by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Early Signs of Unhealthy Stress Levels

Dr. Adan says some of the early signs you or a team member may be developing unhealthy stress levels include:

  • A switch from excitement to disengagement, which may include feelings of not being smart enough or creative enough to complete a project
  • Physical tension, such as sore shoulders or headaches
  • Frequent colds or other illnesses
  • Behavioral tension, such as bickering, with coworkers or family members
  • Becoming hypercritical of oneself and/or others
  • Change in personality
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Abandoning regular exercise and healthy food habits
  • Increasing consumption of caffeinated coffee, alcohol or other substances

“Employers are also under tremendous pressure—to their boards, employees and communities,” Dr. Adan says. “The questions is, how do we keep it so it’s not constant, so it provides us with excitement and so we can all thrive?”

6 Ways to Keep Stress at Bay

She recommends six ways to help your staff keep unhealthy amounts of stress at bay:

  1. Lead by example. “Employees look to their employers as a model,” she says. “You need to create opportunities to make sure employees develop good habits.” Consider offering periodic opportunities for onsite yoga or chair massages or increasing access to healthy foods rather than the doughnuts or bagels that are ubiquitous at many workplaces.
  2. Develop self-awareness. Identify triggers as well as actions that help quell mounting pressure. A five-minute walk around the office, a few deep breaths or a healthy snack can help a person reboot when tensions rise.
  3. Foster a healthy environment. Encourage employees to take regular breaks, stay hydrated and eat lunch – every day. When feasible, conduct walking meetings. “Take the time to practice daily exercise and not stay glued to chairs or desktops for hours,” Dr. Adan says. “Creating those small opportunities are not only necessary for physical and emotional health, but also productivity.”
  4. Disconnect. Implement a policy forbidding nonessential emails or text messages after business hours or on weekends.
  5. Commend your staff. Recognize individual and group achievements, both big and small. “Most people are willing to go beyond the normal call of duty if they feel appreciated and recognized,” she says.
  6. Use targeted stress reduction programs. A targeted program can teach employees stress resiliency by giving them techniques they can use to control the impact of stress on their lives. University Hospitals Connor Integrative Medicine Network offers several of these types of programs, including mindfulness, yoga and meditation classes and Stress Management and Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T.) – recognized as a 2016 Crain's Health Care Hero for improving the lives and health of those in Northeast Ohio.

If you're interested in stress management training for your workplace, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.

Francoise Adan, MD is a psychiatrist and the medical director of University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network. You can Request an Appointment with Dr. Adan or any University Hospitals doctor online.

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