Why Relieving Employee Stress Is a Good Business Decision

It is no secret that the U.S. has a “workaholic” job culture. Ironically this emphasis on work is doing more harm than good for companies. Stress isn’t just bad for our bodies, it’s also bad for our business, negatively impacting employee performance, turnover, long-term productivity and more.

With more than a third of people reporting chronic workplace stress, and up to 90 percent of all primary care visits are related to stress, like heart disease and hypertension, we know our current “workaholic” culture is not sustainable.

For long-term success and continued innovation, it is important that businesses take stock of how their workplace culture affects employee burnout and overall well-being. Since April is Stress Awareness Month, let’s investigate the top ways that employee stress hurts business.

Though a low amount of stress may give a momentary productivity boost—what some experts refer to it as a stress sweet spot—chronic stress has been shown to decrease employees’ productivity long-term. Not to mention that it stifles creativity, perception, and cognitive function—perhaps the opposite of what companies should want among the staff that keeps the business going.

Americans are terrible at taking vacation—likely because they feel they will be penalized for doing so. In November 2018, CNBC reported that a quarter of Americans had nine or more paid-time-off days left in the year. Studies show that presenteeism, the act of showing up for work when you’re ill, costs businesses about $150 billion a year in lost productivity—far more than absenteeism costs.

And employees that don’t take their due vacation are sure to burn out much faster in stressful office environments, leading to higher turnover rates. According to one study, 40 percent of employees have thought of leaving their job because of burnout.

To avoid these pitfalls, businesses should focus on realistic expectations and employee health. Below are just a few of our suggestions.

Encourage employees to eat lunch away from their desks. While there is no federal law that enforces lunch breaks, one hour allows a person to leave the office for lunch, go on a short walk or possibly hit the gym, and even encourages healthier eating habits. Even a few 5- to 15-minute breaks throughout the day can seriously spur productivity

Beyond lunch, employers should normalize disconnecting from work. It benefits mental health. Technology has us connected 24/7, which pushes us to feel that we should always be connected, but this constant contact should be discouraged. Employees who check emails and do other work-related tasks beyond normal hours actually work 36 extra days annually.

Encouraging staff to take time off, especially when they are sick and can infect others, saves money and creates happier, higher-performing workers. Even when not sick, it is important to use paid time off (PTO) to recalibrate, and HR teams can send quarterly reminders and even incentivize to staff to do so. Department heads and team leaders should communicate good opportunities for their team to take vacations, such as after completing a particularly big project.

Stress is built into our job culture, so it won’t disappear with just a few quick fixes. The first step is accepting that much of people’s work-related stress derives from trying to meet their companies expectations. By embracing and clearly communicating that the well-being of employees is of utmost concern and providing actionable solutions to decrease workplace stresses, companies can tackle the problem of a burnt-out workforce.