Overcome the Top 10 Causes of Workplace Stress

Workplace stress is on the rise and it's costing corporate America a fortune. Some estimate that 80% of health care costs are stress related, and these expenses go right to the bottom line.

According to CNN-Money.com, Americans spent more than $17 billion for anti-depressants and anti- anxiety drugs in 2002, up 10% from the year before and nearly 30% over a two year period.

The Institute for Management Excellence reports that American industry spends more than $26 billion each year for medical bills and disability payments with another $10 billion for executive's lost workdays, hospitalization, and early death.

In addition to these staggering figures, stress takes its toll through the added costs of quality control, legal challenges, lost opportunities, poor performance, bad attitudes, and training.

We cannot do much about the skyrocketing costs of medical care and prescription drugs, but we can take immediate action to control the top ten causes of stress as identified by The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health.

The countdown is:

10. "Workload" ? Employees report that they are often stressed when they have too little or too much to do. Managers need to divide responsibilities and help employees prioritize work that must be done. Make sure you understand the impact before shifting responsibilities. Take into account the cost of stress before you increase anyone's workload or hire more people.

9. "Random interruptions" - Telephones, pagers, walk-in visits, and spontaneous demands from supervisors all contribute to increased stress. Time management, delegation of responsibilities, and clarification of expectations can reduce these stressors. 8. "Pervasive uncertainty" ? Stress levels increase rapidly when people are confronted by new requirements and procedures. Keeping people informed controls stress and increases productivity. Put details in a memo so they can review the facts following your explanations.

7. "Mistrust and unfairness" - These situations keep everyone on edge, create bad attitudes, and lower productivity. It is important to keep an open line of communication to avoid misunderstanding and know what people are thinking about your decisions. Managers must consistently build trust and give equal treatment - just do the right thing.

6. "Unclear policies and no sense of direction" - Lack of focus causes uncertainty and undermines confidence in management. You need more than a well-written policy manual. Enforcement of policies and clear communications are essential.

To make sure everyone gets the message, you can repeat your explanation in a variety of ways ? repetition and feedback are important. Reinforce policies through memos, articles, bulletin board postings, personal meetings, and small group discussions.

5. "Career and job ambiguity" - If people are uncertain about their jobs and careers, there is a feeling of helplessness and of being out of control. In addition to the trusted job descriptions and annual personnel reviews, people need to understand a broad range of issues that affect the company.

News of mergers, consolidations, plant closings, and restructuring contribute to a feeling of helplessness. Management must keep people informed about situations that will affect their jobs, or the rumor mill will add to an already stressful situation.

4. "No feedback - good or bad" ? People want to know whether they are meeting expectations. Consistent, written and verbal, personalized feedback is required. Some people need more attention than others, but everyone's performance is enhanced if leaders frequently affirm individual efforts.

3. "No appreciation" - Failure to show appreciation generates stress that endangers productivity throughout the company. There are many ways to demonstrate appreciation, but the most effective is a sincere comment about how much the person means to you and the company.

2. "Lack of communications" - Poor communication leads to decreased performance and increased stress. Management memos and announcements work well for distributing information, but two-way conversation improves communication and solicits ideas and suggestions while reducing stress and complaints.

1. "Lack of control" ? Workplace stress is at its greatest when employees have no say regarding things that affect them. You can decrease sensitivity to all the other stressors and give a sense of being in control by involving employees in operating and administrative decisions and acting on their input. Frontline employees know what they are talking about. Listening to what they have to say reduces stress and increases productivity.

Effective managers understand that stress control is a leadership responsibility and give it just as much attention as any other management function. For those who want to explore stress control further, a free 3-session e-course is available by email request at [email protected]

Grasping the concepts and reducing stress one step at a time can have an amazing impact on your bottom line --and on the lives of those who do the heavy work.

Dale Collie - professional speaker, former US Army Ranger, CEO, and a Fast Company top 50 innovative leader. Author of "Winning Under Fire." (McGraw-Hill) [email protected]

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