Defusing stress

The effects of chronic anxiety are rippling through organizations large and small as workers face ever-increasing internal and external pressures. Left unchecked, stress in the workplace is passed like a virus from employee to employee impacting morale, productivity and, eventually, physical and mental health.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits are stress-related, including at least 11 million Americans who suffer from unhealthy levels of stress at work. Therefore, it’s important for leaders to find a healthy way to deal with employee stress.

“Communication and building trust is critical to help employees manage their anxiety about uncertainty and change,” says Julie Sanon, senior vice president and innovation officer, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “It takes effective communication at all levels of the organization, and it has to be timely.”

Smart Business spoke with Sanon to find out more about the factors that are eroding employee confidence, how to assess workplace anxiety, and why empathy is crucial for building productivity, morale and loyalty.

What is contributing to the shaken confidence and increased anxiety in the workplace?

With current economic conditions as they are, employees are working in an increasingly changing environment. Companies are going through reorganizations, mergers, leadership changes and downsizing. So employees today are faced with shifts in the workload, random interruptions, lack of pay increases, and in some instances either pay decreases or a decrease in work hours. Workers also experience anxiety when the communication in the company is not forthcoming. They are stressed when they perceive they have little or no control over their participation or in the outcome of their work. These factors and others tend to have employees’ levels of anxiety rising due to the fears of not knowing what the future is going to hold for them.

How can leaders best assess employee anxiety about reorganization and change?

Leadership should recognize that employees react differently to stressors in their lives, be it in the work environment or in their personal lives. Today, there are many stressors in the environment, some over which employees have control and others not so much. So it’s important for managers to maintain a pulse over their organization and watch for indicators. For example, there may be a noticeable change in employee morale, productivity, or loyalty. These are all potential signs of distress. Leadership should watch and listen and communicate effectively to try to minimize levels of distress and anxiety.