Stress in the workplace is certainly not a new phenomenon. However, in recent years you may have noticed an increase in the number of employees experiencing it or the extent to which they do. Perhaps that is because employees are dealing with greater personal stress in part due to the economic downturn. Job security, investments, and home values have all gone down which correlate with an increase in stress. Personal relationships may struggle which can also spill into the workplace. If the employee stress is personal in nature why is it even important for you to recognize it? Recognizing stressed employees and taking action is a great asset for employees because it can improve overall morale in the workplace. Additionally, increased stress and anxiety can create physical health problems. Reducing stress in employees can result in reducing insurance costs and absentee rates. In fact, the American Institute of Stress reported that, “job stress costs U.S. businesses more than $300 billion annually due to increased absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity and medical expenses.” According to The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work stress related absenteeism accounts for half of the 550 million working days lost annually. Furthermore, “unanticipated absenteeism is estimated to cost American companies $602/worker/year and the price tag for large employers could approach $3.5 million annually.”*
Clearly it’s in the employer’s best interest to identify stressed employees, but how does one recognize it? Stress can manifest itself in many ways for different people. Physical symptoms may include fatigue, insomnia, headaches, backaches, and stomachaches. Listen to employee complaints and watch for an increase in absenteeism and tardiness. Stress can also have cognitive symptoms such as forgetfulness, poor attention to detail, difficulty concentrating, and indecisiveness. This can result in a significant decrease in an employee’s quality of work. There may also be obvious emotional symptoms; moodiness, anger, anxiety, depression, and lack of motivation. Does an employee seem more hostile or argumentative than usual? Or perhaps they are more withdrawn. If a typically social and humorous person is suddenly very quiet this may be a sign something is wrong. Also, watch for other behavioral symptoms such as in increase in substance use or increase/decrease in eating habits. Physical appearance and hygiene may also change. Paying attention to detail will benefit the individual well-being of your employees as well as the company as a whole.
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