OHS Canada Magazine

How can employers reduce workplace stress?

Identify the source of the stress and take steps to eliminate or minimize it


COVID-19 has added to the stress levels of workers across Canada. (Lakshmiprasad/Adobe Stock)

At times many employees feel stressed out at work and that stress can take a toll on their sleep, health, relationships, and productivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only left some employees feeling overwhelmed, but also fearful of getting sick. Job loss and feeling isolated has added to that stress. Chronic stress may lead to absenteeism, poor performance, conflict, mental health concerns, and increase the number of employee turnover.

Of course, stress is inevitable as it’s part of our daily life. It can be a positive influence when it motivates an individual to put in their best — for instance, the stress associated with a big project deadline or when planning a vacation. But excessive stress over a long period can be damaging.

Severe stress raises the risk of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. It may also cause many physical problems, such as frequent headaches, muscle tension, cardiovascular disease, and a weak immune system.

According to a 2018 white paper, one in three Canadians cited job-related stress as the main cause of their mental health problem.

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As an employer, how can you tell when an employee is struggling with chronic stress?

Catherine Bergeron, health and safety team lead at Peninsula Canada in Toronto, has provided some important tips and advice on workplace stress.

What are the symptoms to watch out for?

“Some common symptoms of excessive stress include emotional outbursts, low productivity, anger, irritability, social withdrawal, restlessness,” says Bergeron.

However, not all symptoms (such as mental or physical ones) may be easily noticed by co-workers or managers. Such symptoms include change in sleep patterns, weight loss or gain, forgetfulness, feelings of sadness, low energy, headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, etc.

Therefore, it is important that you educate your employees on the importance of mental health and the long-term effects of poorly managed stress.

What are some common causes of work-related stress?

The stressors may vary depending on the nature of the job, the company culture and individual temperament. But some common reasons for job stress are:

  • job insecurity, especially during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic
  • excessive or unrealistic workload
  • no clarity on employer expectations or no feedback on performance
  • poor workplace communication
  • unhealthy work environment (Lack of support from co-workers and managers, cliques at work, bullying, harassment, discrimination, favoritism, etc.)
  • unsafe working conditions (physical hazards, such as excessive noise, or ergonomic or chemical hazards).

What steps can I take to reduce workplace stress?

It is important to figure out the source of the stress to be able to take appropriate corrective measures.

“Employers should strive to provide a healthy work environment where all employees are able to achieve a work-life balance,” says Bergeron.

It is recommended that you:

  • conduct a stress risk assessment of your workplace
  • set clear job expectations and provide regular feedback
  • ensure project deadlines and work loads are realistic
  • make sure your employees have the training, resources and support they need to do their job well
  • have policies in place on workplace bullying and harassment and conflict resolution
  • recognize the good work of your employees
  • provide learning opportunities to your staff through training sessions, workshops, etc.
  • train your managers to spot the signs of chronic stress
  • get staff feedback on work processes and decisions that may affect them
  • if the nature of your work allows it, offer flexible or remote work options to those interested
  • offer an Employee Assistance Program to support the mental health and well being of your staff.

If severe stress is a major issue in your workplace, you could consider providing stress management training. But alongside, you must also identify the source of the stress and take steps to eliminate or minimize it.

A stress-free workplace benefits your business by attracting talented candidates, reducing employee turnover and the costs associated with frequent hiring, and boosting workplace morale and productivity.

Sally Abu-Samra is an HR writer at Peninsula Canada in Toronto.