Workplace Stressors Got the Global Workforce Down

FLKR: source: Gallivanting Girl

A funny thing happened on the way to the yoga studio to teach a stress management and meditation class. It was just two weeks after hurricane Sandy and while my facebook page and e-mail was flooded with comments about how much everyone needed to relax, I was getting texts from people who were canceling because they were behind at work. The were burned out.

Endless  demands on the time of employees even under normal circumstances is often at the core of stress patterns at work. And in a new world of work, post-recession and the entry into a hi-tech always-on marketplace, the 2012 Towers-Watson Global Workplace Study found that “stress can turn negative, and some level of detachment or disengagement can set in.”

A huge disparity was revealed between the stress factors of highly engaged employees, and those who were either unsupported, detached or disengaged.

The report went on to state that, “This suggests interventions to relieve stress and workload could have a widespread positive impact.”

The study provides a snapshot of attitudes and concerns of 32,000 workers across the globe.  Nearly two-thirds were not highly engaged which the study cites as not surprising since workers have been doing more, for less, for some time. So the report poses these questions:

  1. Are employers at a critical tipping point in their ability to sustain engagement over time?
  2. And if they are, what actions can they take to turn the tide, given the significant implications of declining engagement on productivity and performance?

One of the key findings from the survey was that stress and anxiety about the future are common. It’s clearly a big stressor for organizations whether stateside or overseas. But the workplace stressors don’t end there in our new economy as I wrote in a recent post, Deconstructing Workplace Stress in a New Economy.

Managing Workplace Stressors

Whether one cites work as a major source of stress or one is just not leaving the work-life stress at the door upon entry, it’s still a kink in the wheels of productivity. What to do? As I wrote at Forbes.com in my post, There is No band-Aid for Workplace Stress, I explore the two overarching tracks for managing workplace stress; employee stress management programs and organizational cultural changes. Both are worthy paths, but in conjunction with one another, are likely more effective.

It’s important to keep in mind that every workplace is unique, and no two workers are alike. Stressors that thread through one office might seem more potent than in another workplace culture. And employees might individually respond differently to workplace stress.

Stress management programs through the lens of an organizational approach, will likely reflect some of the following elements to some degree. These guidelines are standard by most accounts and more on this can be found at The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website:

Identify the Problem:

In small businesses, group discussions can help elicit stressors inherent within an organizational structure, in larger companies surveys are generally more appropriate. Regardless of the approach, an inquiry into the following concerns would help to provide data and pinpoint the sources of stress within an organization and how workers are effected: working conditions, stress levels, health concerns, job satisfaction, engagement and productivity inhibitors.

Intervention:

Transformation depends on the appetite for change, complexity of the company structure, efficient communication channels between workers and managers and learning curves for new programs. Regardless of the changes that are made, consistent and timely evaluations must occur, so that interventions can be modified when necessary to keep them up to date and effective.

Evaluate and Modify: The evaluation process can include employee feedback, health related reports, absentee rates and productivity measures. Solutions can come in a number of ways including Employee Assistance Programs such as stress and time management instruction, Human Resource methods which involve workplace cultural change, work-life initiatives such as flexible working conditions, staggered working hours and job re-design.

Once light is shed on the stressors, stress prevention strategies and organizational changes can be implemented to reduce stress. There is no universal prescription to prevent stress or to create sweeping organizational change. But stress management programs can provide employees with tools to manage their own stress.

Some of the solutions suggested by the NOISH include:

  1. Ensuring workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources.
  2. Designing jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.
  3. Clearly defining workers’ roles and responsibilities.
  4. Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.
  5. Improve communications—reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  6. Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.
  7. Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

Once light is shed on the stressors, stress prevention strategies and organizational changes can be implemented to reduce stress. There is no universal prescription to prevent stress or to create sweeping organizational change. But stress management programs can provide employees with tools to manage their own stress.

What do you think is the best approach to overall workplace stressors? Should workplace be handled through an individual or group perspective?

Please join the conversation with me on Twitter @JudyMartin8 and check out my meditation CD: Practical Chaos: Reflections on Resilience