By Perminus Wainaina
What happens when your employees are stressed at work?
Recently, an employee from a leading audit firm in the region killed himself. Work-related stress was tied to the reason the young man decided to commit suicide.
His colleagues termed him as a hard-working employee in the organization.
This instance begs the question, why would a rising and high performing employee decide to jump off the top of a building at the prime of his career?
This case is not a unique one, if you look at the news over the last few months, you’ll notice an increase of army and police officers who kill themselves and their loved ones. In one case, an army officer killed his wife, the mother-in-law, and an uncle. After he had killed them, he turned the gun on himself and ended his life.
Both these cases can be linked to heightened stress at the workplace. Unfortunately, studies reveal the number of stressed employees in Kenya has been on a steady rise over the years.
What can you do, to ensure your employees do not get to this tipping point? How can you ensure you manage the stress levels in your organization?
Here are some of the effects stressed employees can have in the workplace.
1. An employee becomes moody or easily irritable –this makes it harder to work or even communicate with their colleagues.
2. Poor time management – while stressed, it is almost impossible to focus on a task. As a result, you’ll notice the employee is late to meet deadlines. When the employee does eventually finish a task, the quality will likely be low.
3. Increased absenteeism – you’ll realize your most stressed employees are absent now and then. In the above-mentioned case where the employee committed suicide, it was revealed he took a year of unpaid leave to cope with the demise of a relative.
While there’s no problem with an employee taking leave to mourn the passing of a family member, one year is an unusually long time.
4. Lowered morale – you’ll also notice a stressed employee has no enthusiasm for work. If they were interested in a project, the excitement levels gradually decrease over time.
5. High employee turnover – ultimately, when an employee is stressed at work, they may decide to leave on their own and get a job they feel is less stressful. On the other hand, the management could also let the employee go due to a continuous trend of underperformance.
In general, stressed employees reduce the quality of work produced, thereby affecting the company as a whole.
All jobs have a level of stress. While some level of stress can keep you focused, when the stress levels are high, the negative effects can greatly affect both the employee and the organization.
Employers are more aligned towards the bottom line; they are focused on achieving the company’s vision. Employees, on the other hand, are more inclined to work in a conducive environment. HR professionals strike the balance between ensuring the work environment is conducive for employees, and the objectives set by the top management are accomplished.
What can HR managers do to manage stress levels in the workplace? Here are a few tips to managing stress levels in your employees.
1. Encourage a work/life balance
The employees’ life goes beyond the organization. While they do spend significant amounts of time working, they also need to incorporate other aspects of their lives.
When an employee spends time out of work –resting, on their hobbies, and with their family and friends, they are energized when they show up to work.
As the saying goes, ‘too much of anything can be poisonous.’ Yes, that goes for work as well.
While most companies advocate for a work/life balance, we need to move to the next level. In the case of the employee who jumped from the top of a building, his colleagues said he would often work till midnight, and still be at work by 6 am. This routine can prove fatal as the employee only focuses on the professional aspect of their life.
Encourage your employees to pick up hobbies and activities out of work. In the workplace, endeavor to have practical social activities every so often. For example, you can choose to have a talent showcase, where the employees show off their talents or have a sports event. The point is to engage employees far beyond their daily tasks.
2. Advocate for open communication
Effective communication is key to managing stress at the workplace. For instance, if an employee feels the workload is too much to handle, they should be free to voice the concern.
Only when your employees speak up will you be able to discern the issues they are facing. When there’s a safe work environment, employees can easily communicate within themselves on the various factors contributing to stress. These conversations go a long way in finding a way for the employees to manage the stress on their own.
Additionally, there should also be effective communication between the employees and the supervisors. Encourage managers and supervisors to be more involved in the employees’ work. This way, managers will easily pick out an employee who is overwhelmed or stressed.
Stress and general mental health have been downplayed both at the societal and professional levels. Only recently have we seen more people opening up about their struggles with stress at the workplace. When you manage the stress levels at work, you create a safe space where employees can thrive in their careers, enjoy working for the organization, and ultimately, grow the organization.
Perminus Wainaina is an experienced HR Practioner with over 15 years experience in executive recruitment and selection, training, performance management, and Kenyan labour laws.
He has consulted for firms such as Safaricom Sacco, Oxfam, Un Women, Pacis Insurance, Windsor Golf, Muthaiga Country Club, etc. Currently, he represents the private sector at KEBS in the HR standardization committee.