Strategies for Reducing Record-Level Employee Stress

Matt Gonzales By Matt Gonzales June 28, 2023

​Employees around the world are as stressed as they've ever been, according to a recent survey of more than 122,000 workers in 160 countries. Workplace experts say leaders who engage with their workforce can help rectify this growing issue.

Gallup's 2023 "State of the Global Workplace" poll found that 44 percent of workers said they experienced "a lot of stress" the previous day—matching the recorded high in 2021. While the survey did not ask about specific stressors, the report noted that external factors such as inflation and family health contribute to daily stress. A more significant factor, though, could be an employees' supervisor.

"Many factors influence stress," the report read, "but Gallup finds that managers play an outsized role in the stress workers feel on the job, which influences their daily stress overall."

The report indicated that managers can influence stress levels for the better among employees simply by engaging more with them: The percentage of workers who felt a lot of stress the previous day was higher among employees who were "actively disengaged" (56 percent) than those who were engaged (30 percent).

Gallup defined engaged employees as those who "found their work meaningful and felt connected to their team, manager and employer."

"Engaged, energized employees are core to the success of any business," said Marbue Brown, a New York City-based author and founder of consulting firm The Customer Obsession Advantage. "When employees feel like they're valued, they are energized to give their employer the best version of themselves."

Workplace Implications of High Stress

Research shows that high levels of employee stress are bad for business. Multiple studies, including a 2021 report published in Kansas Journal of Medicine, have found that high stress is strongly associated with lower workplace productivity.

Chronic stress can also result in:

Burnout. Recent SHRM research shows that nearly half of employees (47 percent) display characteristics of burnout. Brown said workers may no longer find their job to be as rewarding as it once was. The work that once energized them may instead deplete their emotional energy.

Discontent. A high-stress environment is overlapping with a rise in efforts by employees to unionize, Brown noted. Even companies that have traditionally been generous to their employees are finding that their overtures are falling short of employee demands.

Quiet quitting. Brown said stressed employees are more likely to question whether their efforts at work are worth the return they're getting. As a result, they could reduce their investment in the workplace in favor of other priorities.

Turnover. Stress can impact retention efforts. SHRM research found that employee turnover due to racial inequity in the workplace—a driver of stress—has cost U.S. organizations up to $172 billion from 2016 to 2021.

5 Tips for Managers to Increase Engagement, Reduce Stress

A 2022 report by McKinsey & Company indicated that female managers disproportionately drive engagement. As leaders, they are more likely to support an employee's well-being and spend time beyond their job responsibilities on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Rachel Bellow, co-founder of leadership-development company Bonfire in Chicago, implored executives to consider women in leadership roles as a way to increase engagement and combat stress. However, women historically have faced many obstacles to these positions, according to SHRM research.

"Given what we know about women as 'super engagers,' it is clear that investing in women as leaders has a multiplier effect on overall engagement, and therefore productivity and innovation," Bellow said.

Brown offered several additional ways employers can mitigate stress among workers:

Prioritize employee appreciation. Feeling appreciated can reduce stress. Brown suggested that companies establish a culture of gratitude by sending thank-you notes to recognize team members for significant contributions.

Deploy programs that support employees' aspirations. Consider initiatives that could help employees outside of work, such as tuition reimbursement, affordable child care options and scholarships. For example, Chick-fil-A began selling its dipping sauces in retail stores, with 100 percent of royalties from retail sales going to scholarships for employees.

Communicate regularly. Be as transparent as possible about the state of the business to keep employees from falling prey to speculation. Gallup stated that these "feedback meetings" can be short—15 to 30 minutes—if they happen weekly.

Establish a clear organizational mission. This helps employees feel connected to a purpose that is bigger than just collecting a paycheck. When employees support the mission, it consumes their focus and can reduce stress.

Listen. Create a system to capture employee feedback, analyze it to uncover systemic issues, implement solutions to resolve causes, and circle back with updates regarding how their feedback made a difference.

Further, Brown encouraged organizations to occasionally host open forums fostering candid conversations among employees, managers and executives about workplace challenges and other stressors.

"Conversations like these have proven to be therapeutic," he said. "They let employees know that they have a support group in their peers and leaders who are facing similar challenges as they are."



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SHRM's Employee Engagement Survey service focuses on more than 50 aspects of job satisfaction and engagement commonly linked to performance.

SHRM's Employee Engagement Survey service focuses on more than 50 aspects of job satisfaction and engagement commonly linked to performance.



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