You’ve worked with John for several years and have developed a strong relationship. Lately you’ve noticed he hasn’t been talking to you much, and seems to be calling in sick more often than before. Recently, you learned his mother is terminally ill, and John is having trouble covering the costs for her care.

John is stressed. When he’s at work, he’s often thinking about his mother and not concentrating on his job. He knows his performance is suffering, which only adds to his stress level.

Stress is how our bodies react to feeling threatened or anxious and comes in many forms. A family illness, marriage problems, job demands, and financial trouble can all trigger stress. Regardless of the cause, it often crosses over into other parts of our lives, including work.

What your employees need to know about stress

When John calls in sick, or has trouble completing a task, his coworkers may need to pick up the slack. This affects their efficiency and your company’s bottom line. You can help your employees identify potential warning signs of stress:

  • Headaches.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Lack of focus or interest.
  • Increased irritability or short temper.
  • Dissatisfaction with the job.
  • Low morale.
  • Upset stomach or loss of appetite.

What your employees can do to minimize stress

As an employer, you want your workers to be at their best on the job. You can offer these suggestions to help them lower their stress level during the workday:

  • Take breaks as scheduled. Encourage them to leave the work area for a few minutes, maybe take a walk outside or gather with coworkers in the break room.
    • If a particular work assignment is causing stress, let them take a break from it and work on something else.
  • Suggest that throughout the day, they stop and take a few deep breaths and then resume work.
  • Remind them of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other resources designed to help employees through stress and other difficulties.

You can also offer suggestions for outside the workplace:

  • Exercise regularly.
    • If your company offers gym memberships as a perk, encourage employees to sign up for one.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Get the appropriate amount of sleep: at least six-and-a-half hours each night (eight is preferred for most).
  • Practice meditation, yoga, or other relaxation techniques.
  • Engage in fun activities with family and friends.
  • Talk through troubles with someone they trust and/or a professional.

At your safety meeting

Promote a positive work environment. Discuss options to alleviate some of the day-to-day issues that cause stress, including:

  • Why everyone should take their scheduled breaks.
  • Work processes that can be improved to increase efficiency and productivity.
  • Ways to better manage and prioritize workload.
  • How to work with management to set reasonable production goals.
  • Effective use of sick time, vacation, or other leave options to help manage stress.
  • How to balance work and personal life.
  • Information about the company EAP and other available resources.

Working with your employees, you can help them identify stress symptoms early. Show that you care about their health and well-being, and create a happier and more productive workplace for everyone.

Resources

CDC/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: “Stress…At Work”

Stress, Symptoms, Signs, Causes, and Coping Tips