Who Owns Workplace Stress?

An interesting discussion occurred in a LinkedIn HR Group a few months ago regarding employee stress.  The questions were: what is an employer’s responsibility with regard to its employees’ stress, what exactly is stress, and what are the best ways for employers to handle the problem.

Starting with the first question, the answer is: employers do need to take some responsibility for employee stress.  Stress often leads to disability and workers comp claims. Even without potential legal liability, there are many other reasons why it’s important for employers need to step up to the plate. Stressed out workers are more likely to be unhealthy, uninspired, poorly motivated, unproductive, and less alert to safety issues. All of this affects an organization’s ability to do its job and succeed.

So what is stress? There are many definitions.  One I liked is: Stress occurs when the demands and pressures on a person exceed the person’s available capabilities (knowledge, skills, time, etc.) to meet those demands and pressures. It is often both mental and physical. Everyone experiences stress at one time or another and a certain level is usually acceptable and even necessary. The problems arise when it becomes counterproductive.

So how does an employer address stress issues, particularly given that each individual in a workplace may react differently to the same stimulus? Most proactive is for the employer to try to address large systemic stressors (e.g., not enough staff for the workload; an abusive or incompetent boss; inadequate training) as well as individual stressors (e.g., overhead lights that give a particular employee migraines or too much noise in an employee’s work station).  Sometimes, just acknowledging the stress and asking employees what might help reduce it will be helpful, assuming there is some follow up on the proposed solutions. Other times an EAP referral is warranted — though employers should not see EAP as the solution to all stress issues.  There are also consultants who work with organizations on stress management.

This being said, a challenge faced by many employers is what to do about employees whose stress can’t be managed.  Some examples: an employee may be hypersensitive, have unreasonable expectations, or be stressed by the inherent requirements of the job. In these cases, the employer will want to have an honest discussion with the employee about the issue, remaining sensitive to the pitfalls presented by the disability accommodation and discrimination laws. It just may not be the right job for this person.

Anyone have any other insights on workplace stress management?  ~Amy Stephson

One response to “Who Owns Workplace Stress?

  1. I have worked for organizations where stress management training as well as meditation and relaxation training were part of the employee training program. In fact, I think in today’s world, it behooves everyone to have these skills. I took a course in meditation and relaxation when I was young. It helped me a lot to control the effects of stress in my career and life in general

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