All Work & No Relaxation Makes Henry Unproductive: Practical Steps for Employers Image by Alan Cleaver under Creative Commons License 2.0
I think we can all agree that some work stress is good and productive, but there is a fine line. Take Henry, an adrenaline hungry businessman with his own company. Piles of paper are stacking up on his desk, deadlines are creeping past and employee dissatisfaction inhouse is growing all the time – there just isn’t enough time in the day to account for everything.
Henry has started to work through lunches and in the evening but he’s still not getting on top of it. He constantly has a dry mouth and his heart is beating faster all the time. He knows he should probably take some time out, but he doesn’t feel like he can – which just makes him feel more stressed.
Henry is gradually spiralling into an abyss of constant stress, he feels like he’s losing it a bit. He’s so stressed that it’s affecting his ability to think clearly – this makes even simple tasks seem insurmountable.
Welcome to the world of work-related stress – nothing to be ashamed of but one of the biggest killers of productivity that exists for hard-working employers and employees alike.
As it’s been Stress Awareness Month this April, I thought I’d take a closer look at work-related stress and explain why you should be taking it seriously when employee dissatisfaction and stress grows in house. I’ve also put together a few initial steps you could be taking as an employer to ensure your office environment is as comfortable as it could be.
- Work Stress Can Cause Physical Illness
The physical effects of prolonged stress can manifest in different ways for different people. If you’ve been suffering from chronic stress over a long period of time and find it difficult to find calm moments, you may be more susceptible to things like infection, high blood pressure, skin problems, muscle pain or even diabetes. Too much stress can even cause infertility in extreme cases (you can read more about these physical symptoms here).
Over the last month, the media has given more attention to the side effects of work related stress than usual – Forbes just published an article detailing the findings of yet another study examining the association of work place stress to heart disease. The article discusses whether work-related stress management is more of an individual concern or something that companies should be stepping up to the plate to out of concern for their employees.
In my view, this is likely to be a two-way agreement. No employer can fix all the problems in a person’s life or head, but they can take steps to improve certain procedures in-house. On the other hand, it’s also up to the individual to take the initiative where they can.
Practical Things an Employer Could Do
Google is often brought up in relation to positive work environments – open spaces, uniquely designed layouts and an abundance of free snacks. But if you don’t have the budget or desire to go to Google’s extremes, there are loads of other things you could consider as an employer to improve your in-house working environment.
- Review Company Atmosphere
Some of the key questions to ask are:
1) Are your employees given the chance to provide their feedback and voice any concerns they have?
2) When they do voice their concerns are they being listened to?
3) Do your employees seem ‘happy’? – Are they able to approach you or their line manager with ease? Do they smile, seem satisfied and interact with other colleagues?
4) What could your company do to improve the working atmosphere? – At a previous company of mine, we had a suggestion box that was reviewed at regular intervals through the year which worked brilliantly. How better to improve a working atmosphere than to hear suggestions from your employees themselves?
5) Could you appoint a ‘social’ organizer in your company if you don’t have one already? – Why not have colleagues nominate one or more people to be in charge of organizing certain company events that will encourage bonding amongst your team?
- Review Physical environment
When you think about it, you’ll realise that you spend a ridiculous number of hours in your office over the period of a year. Ensuring the office meets certain requirements is essential. Have you accounted for the basics and prevented against potential health risks such as back problems, vision impairments, repetitive strain, injuries from trips and slips?
Again, listen to your colleagues and employees and consider where you might be able to help in some way. Could you get some protective screen protectors? Could you get some office plants? Could you get some wrist supports? Could you cover the cost of eye tests? These are not massive initiatives to take but elements that could contribute far more than you realize towards the attitude, loyalty and happiness of your team.
- Consider Outsourcing where possible
A perennial question blighting businesses, small or large, is whether you should invest money into the outsourcing certain tasks. Could you hire a company to manage your content, proofreading or bookkeeping services provider to free yourself and your employees of certain tasks?
If you feel that the benefits of outsourcing would outweigh the cost, then it is definitely worth contacting companies in your area to see what they can offer you. For a reliable source of well written content and proofreaders, I definitely recommend the Society of Editors and Proofreaders – you’ll find a full list of fully trained and professional editors there.
- Incentivize – Incentivize – Incentivize
Sticks and carrots.
It is no good just to discipline team members by pointing out their weaknesses (e.g. lack of punctuality, talkativeness, etc.) and offering adequate reprimands. In my experience, penalty sanctions work best when balanced with an equally well-developed reward and incentive procedure. However, I’d love to hear other business views on this.
Is your company missing a trick when it comes to motivating employees? An effective and easily implementable practice could be to combine ‘good work’ rewards and recognitions with six-monthly/annual appraisal reviews if you’re not doing that already. Why not offer a bottle of wine to a different employee on a set periodic basis? Or, depending on the nature of your business, could you award your employees for best ideas, business plans, presentations, etc in some way?
These are all practical ideas I’ve come up with as a result of previous experience I’ve had with companies that I genuinely enjoyed working for.
However, in the name of Stress Awareness Month, I welcome any additional ideas people have for inhouse management styles and in particular the sense of constant pressure a director, company owner or CEO is likely to feel on a daily basis.
On a last note, I think it’s a great idea to delegate someone in house with the task of reviewing, managing and implementing these various points for dealing with work flow, stress and productivity inhouse. If anything, you’re likely to end up with happier and more loyal employees and team members than otherwise.
(Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this blog coming soon - “Practical Steps for Employees”)
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