You’re Being Robbed!

Handling common workplace stressors that affect the bottom line

By Siamak Farah Oct 3, 2013
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Most businesses have great security systems to protect their property: on-premise cameras, gates, security guards, electronic entry cards. Yet the real thief responsible for more than $200 billion in annual losses to U.S. businessesis lurking within.

That bandit is none other than stress in the workplace. Many workers are unaware of their stress, and others believe they can’t do anything about it. These attitudes can lead to lost productivity, unhealthy workplace relationships, costly employee turnover, absenteeism and increased health care costs.

Yet a simple examination of your business can eliminate or reduce stress.

Let’s explore common stress factors at the workplace and what you can do about them.

Too Many Open Folders

Tell me more. Even if your employees are great at multi-tasking, having them work on too many things at once is stressful. When our mind is occupied with a laundry list of things to do, it becomes difficult to focus on the project at hand. 

How do I overcome it? Seems simple, but set priorities. Make sure to be realistic about the amount of work you’re requiring and about project deadlines. Unrealistic deadlines will lead to delays, half-baked projects or anxious teams.Everyone has emergency assignments, but these should be the exception, not the rule.

Lack of Clarity and Indecision

Tell me more. People need to know where they stand and what’s expected of them.Indecision or changing expectations lead to uncertainty, which causes stress. 

How do I overcome it?Steve Jobs used to say, “Clarity is priceless.” Be clear about your requirements, and demand clarity yourself before embarking on a project.If a goal remains vague, don’t make it a goal. Keep all parties abreast of progress or bottlenecks. Changing direction midproject may be unavoidable sometimes, but don’t let this happen routinely.

Lack of Knowledge

Tell me more. People become stressed when they don’t have the right expertise to handle a task or situation. I remember the first time I attempted to do my own tax return. Most people told me it would be a walk in the park, but I was nervous. When I realized I lacked the necessary knowledge, I delegated the task to an expert. My anxiety disappeared, and the money I paid was peanuts compared with the stress I would have gone through.

How do I overcome it?Create an environment where people don’t fear admitting their lack of expertise. If they secretly struggle, they’ll be stressed and the project will suffer. You can still challenge employees to expand their expertise, but managers needn’t fear the cost of relying on outside experts. If it means the project gets done more quickly and efficiently, the investment may be worthwhile.

Change

Tell me more. Formost people, change—whether it’s a new office, project or supervisor—can cause stress. It takes effort to familiarize yourself with something new. This is why older people can become agitated learning how to use a computer or play a kid’s video game.

How do I overcome it?If you can’t clearly articulate how the pros outweigh the cons, don’t make the change. If the change is good for the company, but employees remain wary about it, this may cause stress that makes it hard to implement the new idea. Managers must get buy-in. Make sure workers know all the facts and can see how the positives outweigh the negatives. Encourage them to ask questions. If necessary, rearrange teams so each is best equipped to tackle one or more aspects of the coming change. Bring consultants in to handle what employees can’t.

Worrying About Events that Haven’t Happened

Tell me more. The world is filled with worst-case-scenario people. This mentality can stress an entire team if employees focus on only what may go wrong.

How do I overcome it?Aim for the best-case scenario, but make contingency plans for handling less-than-ideal outcomes. Communicate those plans to your team.Chances are, the worst-case scenario won’t happen and the less-than-ideal results can be promptly addressed. After you do this a few times, you should win employees’ trust and future projects should be easier. Trust is a major stress buster.

Physical Health and Relationships

Tell me more. When people feel stressed, they may engage in unhealthy behavior, such as too much shopping, eating, drinking or smoking. This behavior doesn’t reduce stress; it compounds it. As a manager, you may think that the personal well-being of your employees is none of your business. But their well-being affects not only their work but, possibly, an entire team or workplace. 

How do I overcome it?Offer to act as a sounding board. Make sure employees feel comfortable discussing their personal situations, and assure them you won’t divulge any information. You may want to invest in stress relievers such as a company health-club membership, team outings or company picnics.

Siamak Farah is the CEO of InfoStreet, which provides cloud applications for the workplace.

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