It pays to reduce stress

Do you think employees leave your company for better pay or more robust benefits? If you answered yes to that question, then you aren’t alone. According to the
“2008 Global Strategic Rewards Survey” conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, work-place stress is one of the top reasons employees say they leave organizations, but stress
doesn’t even register as one of the top five
reasons employers cite as causes of employee resignations. The survey demonstrates
that organizations applying an integrated
approach to reward and manage talent have
an advantage in attracting, engaging and
retaining the talent they need to succeed in
their markets and outperform peers.

“Some of the myths that employers subscribe to are the reasons why employees
come and go,” says Laurie Bienstock, U.S.
practice director for Strategic Rewards for
Watson Wyatt Worldwide. “Once they understand the impact of stress in the workplace,
employers can reshape their employee value
proposition and take steps to attract and
retain top performers.”

Smart Business spoke with Bienstock
about reducing workplace stress.

What are the top causes of workplace stress
cited by employees?

According to the survey, employees are
most stressed about the day-to-day challenges associated with their jobs, more
specifically the increasing expectation to do
more with less. Here’s what employees mentioned as the most frequent causes of stress:

  • Job definition — Unclear or unrealistic
    performance expectations cause stress,
    along with unrealistic workloads, inadequate
    training and poorly defined work processes.

  • Work group environment — A lack of
    teamwork and/or a lack of staff to perform
    their job duties create workplace stress.

  • Supervisor — Employees were split
    about how supervisors contribute to work-place stress. Low performers said their
    supervisor was a cause of workplace stress
    whereas top performers more frequently
    cited poorly defined work processes, not
    their supervisor, as a reason for stress.

In times of economic uncertainty, it’s even
more important to ensure employees are
engaged and have the resources needed to
do their work. If organizations are forced to
reduce their work force, they must be careful
not to expect the employees left behind to do
the jobs of those who have left — this creates
excessive stress and may impact retention,
particularly as the economy rebounds.

What actions have organizations taken to
combat stress and which are most effective?

Organizations report taking these steps,
with some being more effective than others:

  • Strengthen performance management.
    Clarifying job definition and defining realistic
    performance expectations through their performance management systems is viewed as
    highly effective in reducing stress, according
    to more than half of the survey participants.

  • Improve management communication.
    While many companies have instituted more
    frequent management communication
    around corporate goals and the company’s
    performance, the tactic was not reported as
    highly effective in reducing stress.

  • Re-engineer job processes. Re-engineering work flow and processes was highly
    effective in reducing stress.

  • Improve training. More than half of the
    surveyed companies increased the availability of employee training, but training was
    cited as one of the least effective methodologies for combating stress.

  • Flexible work schedules. While almost 60
    percent of organizations indicate they are
    making it possible for employees to have a
    healthy, comfortable balance between work
    and personal lives, only 50 percent of
    employees agree. Flexible scheduling is the
    most common tool employers are using to
    facilitate work-life balance, with work-at-home/remote policy and adjusted staffing
    levels common around the world, as well.

Why is an integrated approach to rewards
and talent management effective in reducing

An integrated approach ensures that the
programs and processes in place at your
organization align with your business strategy as well as the needs of your current and
future work force. This includes creating and
living up to a compelling employee value
proposition. By implementing a holistic
approach to rewards and talent management
that drives business results, aligns pay with
performance, promotes healthy work-life
balance and integrates employee learning
and succession planning, employers drive
employee engagement (which reduces
stress) and achieve higher productivity.

Are there other benefits for employers?

Employers benefit from other soft cost
reductions as a result of lower employee
turnover such as decreased recruiting and
retraining costs and sustained productivity
levels. According to the survey, companies
that take an integrated approach to reward
and manage talent are less likely to experience problems attracting critical-skill
employees (20 percent less likely) and top-performing employees (25 percent less likely); have less trouble trouble retaining critical-skill employees (33 percent less likely)
and top-performing employees (18 percent
less likely); and are 18 percent more likely to
be among the top financially performing

LAURIE BIENSTOCK is the U.S. practice director for Strategic Rewards for Watson Wyatt Worldwide. Reach her at (415) 733-4311 or
[email protected].