Leadership, Stress, and the Mental Health of Your Workforce

When we talk about the mental health of your workforce, we have to include stress and the quality of leadership as factors in employee well-being. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that the main causes of stress at work are work-life balance issues (20 percent), job insecurity (6 percent), people issues (28 percent), and workload (46 percent). Stress at work carries over into personal lives and can impact people emotionally and physically. Though each person copes with stress differently,  poor employee mental health can be as damaging to productivity as physical injuries. The good news is that your organization’s leaders have enormous influence over the state of your team’s mental health.

The convergence of Factors Producing Stress

The American Psychological Association conducts an annual survey to identify what Americans consider their main sources of stress. In their most recent survey, 61 percent said work was a primary factor. Stress can contribute to disengagement… meaning stressed-out employees often feel isolated and alone, which multiplies the negative impacts of stress.

Change begin a constant in today’s workplace can be a stressor, ever-changing technology, challenging work deadlines, tension or conflict among coworkers, inadequate training, absence of job control, financial insecurity, work-family scheduling conflicts, lack of control over work, believing supervisors don’t make fair decisions and discrimination, to name a few. Some of the early signs your workplace has excessively stressed employees is a decline in productivity, an increase in health claims, and even an increase in turnover and absenteeism. Be sure your HR team is doing exit interviews with employees who leave to assess the motivating factors in their departure.

Result of Poor Match

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines work-related stress as the result of people not having the abilities and knowledge needed to adequately meet the demands and pressures of their work. The WHO also says that stress is made worse when employees believe their supervisors and colleagues offer little support and feel they have little control over work processes. Workplace challenges are normal in today’s workplace, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse for poor leadership. Stress occurs when people experience pressures they aren’t equipped to manage, and your managers can improve that state of affairs.

The union’s view of workplace stress is that they understand employee stress better than employers and can help employees address the causes. In times of transition or change, a union organizer may tell your employees they care about their whole lives and understand that work impacts a person’s personal life as well as their work life. Union organizers often represent themselves as champions of employees who are expected to meet unreasonable deadlines, maintain an impossible work pace, perform without adequate job training, give up family time to work overtime, feel powerless, or can’t talk to supervisors about workplace problems.

Stressed employees will follow one of three paths. They will keep their jobs but won’t be fully functioning, will look for another job, or will contact a union representative, looking for intervention with management. To union proof your business requires managers who can preempt unions by developing open channels of communication.

Open Channels of Communication

Your managers must have good relations with employees so that employees are willing to discuss their challenges and issues. Engagement is a product of the employee-employer trust level, communication, and workplace culture. Workforce studies conducted by Gallup and Queens School of Business found that disengaged workers have 49 percent more accidents, 37 percent higher absenteeism, 18 percent lower productivity, 60 percent more defects and errors, and 50 percent more voluntary turnover. Your stressed employees will not have loyalty to your business, and that can lead to a host of other problems.

Employee engagement is crucial. In Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, surveys found that engagement is the best predictor of employee well-being. Making employees feel valued; holding honest conversations with employees about various issues, showing empathy and compassion toward employees; regularly communicating your organization’s values through various channels; providing regular employee training; and keeping employees informed about the business are some of the ways to engage employees. Engagement, in other words, is all about effective leadership communication, and employee mental health is directly influenced by the level of engagement.

About the Author Chris Craddock

As the leader of Projections' production team, Chris loves to inspire others to perform at the highest levels! From the most challenging leadership opportunities to brainstorming the latest topics leaders want to learn about, Chris provides clear direction and vision.

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