Workplace Stress and Leadership Skills– A Critical Connection

Research shows that workplace stress can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Stress can also worsen clinical mental illness and substance use disorders, impacting job performance, productivity and employee engagement. 

Experts warn that there are many concerning statistics about stress in the workplace, including: 

  • Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 Billion in healthcare costs yearly
  • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress
  • US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress
  • Stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day
  • Only 43% of US employees think their employers are about work-life balance

Work is the #1 Source of Stress

Work is not just where we spend most of our waking hours. According to the American Psychological Association, it’s also the top source of stress for Americans, followed closely by money, health and relationships. 

The National Institute of Health has identified the top 5 causes of stress at work, which are: 

    1. Working Conditions: This category of stressors includes workload, understaffing, physical environment, or lack of structure in working hours (for example, being expected to be available at all hours). 
    2. Nature of the Job: Some jobs are more stressful than others. In the study, these jobs included dealing with customers, unpredictability, high levels of responsibility, and work that involved off-hours shifts, traveling or overnight work.
    3. Management Practices: Employees report managers can be a significant source of stress due to unrealistic demands, pressure, conflicting roles, lack of support or appreciation, unfair treatment, lack of input in decision-making, lack of transparency and poor communication. 
    4. Life Events: This can include a lack of work-life balance, lack of flexibility for family/personal issues or unexpected life events.
    5. Financial Factors: This stress comes from poor pay or benefits, lack of opportunity to advance and earn more, or job insecurity. 

Hidden Costs of Workplace Stress

As leaders, reducing workplace stress should be a top priority. Study after study confirms that increased stress levels reduce the ability to think strategically, communicate effectively, or maintain normal productivity levels. Chronic stress leads to burnout, lack of engagement and increased absenteeism. These problems can snowball in the workplace, leading to increased employee turnover, which in turn can cause understaffing, which causes more stress. If these issues are not addressed, customer satisfaction will eventually be compromised, significantly impacting the bottom line. 

“Bad” Managers Might Be to Blame 

In a recent LinkedIn poll, Crestcom found that 63% of respondents said poor leadership or management was the most significant cause of workplace stress!  Likewise, A survey by SHRM found that 84% of workers felt poorly trained managers create unnecessary work and stress. 

Supervisors and managers have a significant impact on their direct reports. Unfortunately, many people are promoted to managerial positions without receiving any training in how to manage people. This lack of leadership development can cause many preventable problems for employees. 

According to SHRM, the top five skills people managers could improve to reduce workplace stress are: 

  1. Communication Skills
  2. Employee Training and Development
  3. Time Management and Delegation
  4. Cultivating an Inclusive Culture
  5. Performance Management

The good news is that if a lack of training is to blame for high levels of stress in the workplace, then there is an opportunity to improve the situation. Organizations that prioritize developing leadership skills in their managers will see reduced employee stress. 

Crestcom International has over 30 years of experience helping managers become better leaders. Our curriculum has evolved to keep up with the challenges of today’s workplace and covers topics such as: 

  • Mental Agility and Resilience
  • Creating a Culture of Belonging
  • Being the Coach They Need
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Delegation
  • Conflict Resolution

Managers with these skills can help reduce stress across the organization and deliver outstanding results from the C-suite to the front line!

5 Tips for Making Work Less Stressful for Employees

  1. Create a Comfortable Workplace. Managers may be unable to control every aspect of an employee’s work environment, but addressing things like high noise levels, uncomfortable workstations, or an unnecessarily hectic work environment can make a big difference. If possible, create quiet zones or private spaces for employees who need to focus or struggle with distractions in an open office environment.
  2. Encourage Breaks. Many professionals make the mistake of skipping breaks and working weekends to get more done. This strategy can have some benefits in the short term, but it will diminish productivity and performance in the long run. Taking breaks throughout the day will improve mental and physical stamina, so leaders should set the expectation that employees should step away from their desks every couple of hours. One of the best ways to do that is to lead by example. Employees will feel more comfortable taking a break if they see their manager do the same. 
  3. Set Boundaries Around Working Hours. The shift to hybrid and remote work has blurred the lines between work and home, making some managers more comfortable reaching out to their teams during their off hours. Even if it is a convenient time for you, consistently communicating after hours leads employees to feel that they must be available at all times, which dramatically increases stress and anxiety. So before you send that late-night email, consider what message you are sending by not waiting until the morning. 
  4. Cultivate Psychological Safety. Psychological safety has several components, but managers can make a big difference by doing simple things. For example, they can treat mistakes as a learning experience instead of reprimanding or embarrassing employees. Managers can also help employees feel heard by encouraging them to speak up in meetings and to feel free to ask questions when they don’t understand. The workplace can be challenging without being threatening, and managers play a prominent role in making that happen. 
  5. Demonstrate Commitment to Employee Development. Employees who feel valued are more engaged and experience less stress at work. One way to do that is to commit to providing employees with learning and professional development opportunities. Consider providing training programs or offering access to skills development to support your employees and help them grow as individuals. 

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First

While managers clearly have a great deal of influence over employee stress levels, it is also essential for managers to manage their own stress and mental health. Airlines tell us to put on our own oxygen masks before trying to help others because we can’t help anyone if we are unconscious. The same thing is true in leadership!

A stressed-out manager leads to a stressed-out team, so reducing workplace stress starts with taking care of yourself. Many professionals have learned to wear busyness and stress as a badge of honor, and the so-called “hustle culture” encourages people to brag about all-nighters and non-stop productivity.  However, that is a fast track to burnout and illness! Instead, leaders should set a great example by prioritizing good nutrition, getting enough sleep, and other healthy habits.