5 strategic HR measures and incentives for businesses to help reduce workplace stress

Employees who experience no stress associated with performing their profession at work are in the minority. The Stress in the Workplace international survey conducted in 11 European countries with a sample of 58,508 employees and conducted by the international Paylab.com portal confirmed this fact. The survey focused on investigating the most serious stress factors and their association with sleep.

A majority of employees are regularly affected by stress in the workplace and many of them find that it significantly interferes with their ability to fully relax. Sometimes stress is productive, capable of stimulating people to perform better; however, long-term stress is often associated with negative emotions and is accompanied by a reduction in productivity and engagement, with 15 per cent of employees self-reporting symptoms of burnout. Employers are currently grappling with how to effectively set up working conditions and processes so that working for their companies becomes sustainable without increasing fluctuations.

1. Reducing “interruptions” and making room for uninterrupted work

According to the Paylab study, people most often complain about pressure from their duties and their workload (up to 25 per cent of all respondents and a third of all managers). The continuous barrage of new calls, emails, tasks, deadlines, instant messages and meetings announced with little or no notice gives the overall tempo of work a confused and rushed feel. Meanwhile, the ability to focus decreases with an increase in interruptions, which shift attention away from completing more important tasks. Companies now need to think of an efficient way to operate and reduce these distractions to a minimum. One advantageous solution is for every department in a company to define so-called “internal office hours” during the workday when they are open for communication with other departments. No less important is to set aside time for work requiring a high level of concentration, so that employees are “unavailable” to others for at least 100 minutes to allow them to fully focus on their assigned tasks without any unnecessary distractions. These internal rules must be respected at all levels of the company, which helps in efforts towards more efficiently planning meetings and communications.

The deluge of work and a heavy workload can result in chaos and time stress in the minds of employees. Another major impediment is overtime work, which was reported by up to 16 per cent of employees as a serious problem in Paylab survey. Other stress factors include an inability to cope with the workload (10%), the high demands and expectations of a superior (9%), and the demands and expectations of clients (9%). Managers should take the initiative and set out specific priorities for subordinates at regular meetings based on the importance and urgency of the individual tasks. Sometimes energy has to be saved on tasks that can wait or that can be dealt with by the distribution of forces. The regular prioritisation of tasks facilitates improved coordination and organisation of work activities.

3. Fostering a supportive culture

The more a person feels isolated at work, the more sensitive they become to stress and its consequences. Isolation is associated with an elevated fear of failure in people. It is essential that employees do not feel alone or helpless at work; rather they need an opportunity to consult with one another and to socialise with others at the workplace. Feeling accepted and supported is important; it goes beyond working for one’s self, there is support and backing from other employees as this is for the collective good of the company. If a company employee makes a mistake, it is important that they do not feel persecuted; they need support and assistance to ensure these errors are not repeated in the future. Suitable forms of interaction in this regard include various team workshops to provide a lighter form of support for communication and a supportive culture at work. This initiative is also a suitable recipe for improving strained relations at work, which afflict up to 9 per cent of employees, according to Paylab survey.

4. Motivating remuneration and benefits

The second largest stress factor that results in employees losing sleep is a lack of money and the financial problems that result from low earnings insufficient for covering living expenses. This aspect was identified as a key stress factor by up to a quarter of respondents. Companies should re-evaluate employee salaries with reference to the market value of individual positions on a regular basis. Paylab has data on the market prices for individual jobs and maps trends in financial and non-financial benefits associated with specific professions. The portal prepares analysis based on updated data at reasonable prices for companies.

5. Supporting balance

Up to 16 per cent of employees in Paylab survey reported too little time off and 12 per cent of respondents feel that work significantly affects their private life. A good response here is to improve the process of planning holiday time and then planning coverage to ensure employees can take time off to focus on themselves and their interests. Employers should fully support opportunities to spend free time with loved ones and respect time set aside for holidays. When an employee has planned time off, it is important not to burden them with unnecessary phone calls and emails or otherwise denigrate their time off by expressing the difficulty in managing duties without their presence at work and its negative effects on other colleagues. The group most sensitive to work-life balance are young millenials and most of the responsibility for failure in this area is attributed to the poor management of human resources at the workplace.