We are all familiar with the experience of some form of stress in our lives. Stress is, in the most simple explanation, a state of strain – mental or emotional – that results from circumstances that are unfavorable or very demanding.

Stress happens when you encounter someone who seems threatening. Stress happens when bills begin to pile up. Stress can occur because of an argument you have with your spouse. Stress can happen when you work too many long days in a row.

Over time, stress can begin to completely wear us down. And when we’re stressed in any aspect of our lives, it is typically brought into the workplace – whether or not it began there.

Most stress experienced in the workplace is, however, caused by circumstances at the workplace. According to the CDC, “Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.”

Stress at work can be caused by taking on a project that one is not yet fully trained to do. Or by running out of time to complete a certain task. Stress can also be caused by tension among co-workers and between management.

Because stress in the workplace is so prevalent, it is important to acknowledge the impact stress has on safety in the workplace.

In this article, we’ll go over the importance of stress awareness and how to properly manage it to keep employees not only happy but also safe.

Acknowledging Stress in the Workplace

Being able to recognize when stress is occurring in the workplace is the first step to helping employees stay healthy and safe. Some team members or management may initially want to turn their heads to signs of stress because for many people, it’s easier to ignore a difficult issue rather than tackle it head-on. But it’s important to instead acknowledge when a co-worker is experiencing stress for the benefit of that person and those around them.

Stress can occur in many ways. When someone is stressed, they may seem to have a shorter temper, look fatigued, seem depressed, and might seem incapable of completing tasks in a timely manner.

Some other signs of stress to look out for may include:

  • Low morale
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Overeating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased alcohol use
  • Drug use

If you notice a coworker aligning with any – or even many – of these signs, they are probably stressed and need some help.

When you notice a co-worker or employee experiencing lack of morale, fatigue, and increased anxiety, it is important to either go to that person of to their manager to take the first step to resolving the issues causing that person stress. Workers who are experiencing these signs of stress may cause unwanted harm to themselves or to others.

Tired and anxious construction workers are more likely to fall from heights or drop heavy tools.

Lack of sleep and substance abuse can cause your employee to make mistakes on financial reports.

Increased irritability may cause unnecessary tension and even arguments between co-workers or between levels of leadership.

Loss of focus and attention at the workplace can cause major injury, mistakes, and disputes. Recognizing that stress plays a large part in these outcomes can be extremely helpful in keeping your workplace safe for everyone.

Causes of Workplace Stress

There are a few different things that can lead to stress in the workplace.

For the most part, employees tasked with projects that they feel they do not have the skills they need to properly complete the project will cause stress. Meaning, don’t give an untrained employee a task that they will not know how to do or have the proper training or tools to figure out how to do it. Assigning tasks to employees outside of their skill level only causes them stress.

Similarly, if an employee does not understand the expectations of their role, or if they are burdened with too many jobs within their role, they will experience stress.

Poor communication between teams and between management-employee groups can also lead to stress on every level. When people do not communicate, expectations are not clear and projects can be messed up.

Another cause of stress in the workplace is the environment. This can either be the workday environment an employee may experience – little or no break time, heavy workload, hectic tasks throughout the day – and also the physical environment they work in – an uncomfortable desk and chair, too much noise, dirty facilities.

Obviously, many factors can lead to stress in the workplace.

But don’t let that be overwhelming. There are ways in which to tackle workplace stressors to ensure your employees experience less stress caused by their jobs, the people around them, and their environment.  

Dealing with Stress

Educating team members about how to manage their stress in the workplace is a great step in right direction. Learning how stress can occur at work and how to actively deal with it can reap a healthier workplace and happier life for your employees.

For instance, giving your employees the tools to recognize what caused a seemingly abrupt feeling of stress can help them understand the best way to deal with it sooner than later. Is it having a quick chat with someone who seemed to undermine you in the morning meeting? Perhaps asking management to keep the bathrooms cleaner is your priority.

Even learning simple breathing exercises and how to manage time better can lead to a lower-stress life at work.

After identifying workplace stress, it is important for management to follow through with plans or programs to deal with the issues. If your employees are having difficulty getting along but are supposed to be working on the same project, finding a way to meet with and figure out the underlying issues is a great step in the right direction to dismissing a stressful environment.

By recognizing what causes workplace stress, implementing plans and practices to deal with stress as it occurs, and giving your employees the tools they need to work through their stress, you can help eliminate unsafe circumstances and create a healthier, more welcoming environment for everyone.

You can also help to alleviate stress in the workplace by creating a work environment that embraces the importance of a work-life balance. Instill behaviors that allow employees to feel they can take regular breaks, take their time doing tasks, and have open communication with each other and with management will further help alleviate potential causes of stress in their lives.