HR’s Guide to the Effect of Job Stress on Employee Performance
Stress has always been present in the workplace. HR teams know that most employees experience job stress at some point in their careers. However, new challenges and recent changes to the way we work and live have increased employee stress. A new study from Pathways found that nearly a third of employees are very concerned about their stress levels.
If not checked, stress has profound effects on our biology, leading to physical and mental health challenges. In addition, stress negatively impacts work productivity, company culture, and an organization’s ability to meet its business goals. Job stress makes employees more prone to error, poor work performance, mental health issues, burnout, and conflict in the workplace.
If job stress goes unaddressed, organizations pay the price in higher rates of turnover, disengagement, and absenteeism. However, when human resources understand how job stress affects employee performance, they can identify and support struggling team members. Here’s a breakdown of how stress affects employees’ performance and ways HR can help team members.
How Stress Impacts Employee Performance & Well-Being
Productivity depends on employees’ time management skills and ability to focus on the task at hand. Unfortunately, when job stress comes into play, employees find it difficult to concentrate, meet deadlines, and utilize their creativity. More significantly, stress can trigger other mental health concerns that impact job productivity— including burnout, anxiety, depression, and conflict.
Stress Leads to Employee Burnout
This year, employees reported burnout as their number one concern. This concern points to underlying issues with stress management and productivity at work. Chronic stress, or burnout, means employees become less engaged with their work. When employees are “checked out” at work due to burnout, they can’t maintain normal productivity levels.
Burnout also increases absenteeism, presenteeism, and at its worst— lends itself to more turnover. When stress turns into burnout, not only are employees less engaged and productive, they’re also less satisfied with their jobs. One of the leading reasons employees choose to quit their jobs is burnout from chronic stress. Burnout also puts employees at higher risk of developing clinical depression, profoundly impacting one’s job and quality of life.
Anxiety, Depression, & Lost Employee Productivity From Stress
Work-related stress can be a vicious cycle. Stress often leads to more significant mental health concerns that impact team members’ productivity levels. In addition, stress lends itself to increased rates of anxiety and depression, which can affect employees’ job performance and personal lives. When employees experience anxiety and depression, they find it more difficult to function normally and require extra effort to be productive at work.
Employees know that their stress and anxiety affect their ability to be productive. In a study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 56% of employees reported that their anxiety and stress impacted their work performance. Due to stress in the workplace, constant worry or concern about one’s performance can be overwhelming and lead to less productive workdays.
Stress alone can make it difficult to focus and engage in daily work. However, the biggest threat to productivity isn’t just stress. It’s how stress manifests into more significant well-being issues that impact employees’ performance. Knowing the effects of stress on productivity is critical to organizations committed to higher performing employees and retention.
Workplace Stress Means More Conflict, Less Collaboration
One employee’s stress can impact how well the whole team collaborates: a phenomenon most HR departments know all too well. Collaboration becomes more challenging when employees are stressed— leading to ineffective communication that can cause workplace conflict.
Every member of an organization has an emotional threshold when it comes to stress. If an employee’s stress levels are low, their capacity to navigate difficult conversations is greater. Conversely, when stress consumes an employee’s emotional capacity, they have limited “emotional bandwidth” to dedicate to thoughtful communication.
Workplace conflict that results from stress and poor communication is not only time-consuming but also hinders job performance. Additionally, stressed employees are less likely to find ways to address and resolve existing conflicts with team members. Over time, this reduces productivity and makes it difficult for employees to build trust at work.
The impact on employee productivity and performance isn’t the only price of job stress and conflict. Work environments with unresolved conflict are a breeding ground for turnover. SHRM found that 50% of voluntary work departures were due to unresolved conflict at work. Beyond employee performance, the conflict that arises from stress can ultimately significantly impact your retention rates.
How HR Can Help Employees Cope & Manage Stress
Your organization can take proactive steps to mitigate the impact of stress on employee performance by focusing on workplace well-being. As stress factors into other mental health concerns, a holistic approach to employee well-being is most effective.
Assess and Enhance Existing Benefits
Examine what benefits you have in place to support employees to address job stress. If you already have a wellness initiative, consider how you can expand your existing program to incorporate mental health. For example, if your organization focuses on improving physical activity levels, you can organize a walking campaign.
A walk outside to break up the workday is a great way to reduce job stress. Taking breaks from work is proven to reduce stress levels. Breaks are especially effective if spent doing physical activity or practicing mindfulness. Employees can practice mindfulness independently, but they’ll need to learn how to do so.
Organizing guided meditations or training on mindfulness techniques can help employees implement better stress management practices throughout their workday. In addition, creating a “mindfulness break” as part of organizational culture can go a long way. Mindfulness breaks are a stress reduction method and send a message to employees that leadership cares about their well-being.
Create a Psychologically Safe Workplace
When employees don’t have support when they’re stressed, they become less engaged with their work. Reduce stress by creating a work environment where employees feel comfortable speaking about their feelings without judgment or punishment. A psychologically safe workplace depends on empathetic leaders setting an example.
Encourage managers to approach their team and speak candidly about their well-being and the wellbeing of the group. For example, leadership can host a lunch-and-learn about stress at work and sharing their own experience. A more casual approach works too. For example, managers can have monthly check-ins with employees and lead the conversation about their well-being.
When leaders discuss how they’re doing emotionally, it encourages employees to speak up when struggling. Talking honestly about stress is the first step in managing it effectively and getting support at work.
Implement a Holistic Employee Mental Health Program
Most existing employee benefits lack sufficient support when it comes to reducing stress and proactively managing mental health. Few employees utilize their employer’s EAP, and they’re already in crisis by the time they do. At that point, the effects of stress have likely already reduced productivity at the cost of your organization.
Consider implementing a mental health program that trains employees on how to manage their stress levels. A holistic mental health program provides the resources employees need to care for their mental health before they’re struggling. Training sessions should educate employees on the effects of stress and how to prevent and cope with stress. Holistic programs also include access to resources and tools to help raise awareness and well-being.
If your organization wants to reduce employee stress, our Pathways at Work program offers customized employee mental health training. Our behavioral health experts will work hand-in-hand with your HR team to develop workshops and resources for your team.
Your employees might be stressed, but your HR team is in a great position to offer them support. Reach out today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our Behavioral Wellness Experts.