Culture | Wellness

Getting a Handle on Employee Stress

April 22, 2022 · 8 min read


Best practices from our HR experts

Before the pandemic, 91% of professionals said that having an unmanageable amount of workplace stress or frustration negatively impacted the quality of their work.1 With 20% of workers dealing with stress for more than five hours each week, this can severely hinder overall productivity and lead to billions of dollars in profit loss annually.2 During the pandemic, workers’ daily stress levels reached a record high—43% of survey respondents across 100 countries claimed to have experienced workplace stress, up from 38% in 2019.3 Increased stress can eventually lead to burnout, which opens the door to undesired consequences for both employees and employers.

Stress can decrease employee engagement, may disrupt productivity and could lead to various health complications. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, which may increase susceptibility to colds, flu and coronavirus infection. This, in turn, can increase the number of sick days that your workforce takes and lower employee output. Over time, even small stressors can lead to health problems, as employees feel rising pressure and anxiety. To combat these issues and help your employees thrive, it’s important to create a company culture that helps decrease work-related stress.

Powerful Ways to Reduce Employee Stress

Some careers create more anxiety than others, but employers have an opportunity to decrease stressors by being proactive about employee experience. Following are some of the best ways to help your team experience fewer stressors.

1. Create a Strong Work-Life Balance Over the years, one of the leading causes of workplace stress has consistently been the inability to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Career-related anxieties tend to follow employees back home, which disrupts their time to unwind, recharge and fuel their passions. This creates a negative cycle of stress that continues to grow as months pass. A positive work-life balance in its definition includes the minimization of work-related stress as a means of creating a sustainable professional life while optimizing well-being and health. Some ways to achieve a healthy work-life balance include ensuring employees adhere to traditional working hours, avoiding emails or calls after they have left the office and providing adequate amounts of time for tasks to be completed. These boundaries reduce the pressure for employees to work an extended workday and diminish the rate of burnout. While this is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s an essential one to adhere to. Unless there is a time-sensitive emergency, be sure to only send emails, texts and make work-related phone calls to employees within core business hours.

2. Provide Employees with Strong Benefits One of the most impactful ways to reduce an employee’s workplace stress is to take care of them. Caring for employees may include providing your workforce access to strong mental and physical health benefits alongside other, non-traditional, options. Providing coverage that helps combat the negative consequences of stress and reassures employees that, if anything happened, they would be covered. The safety net of strong benefits can help decrease active stress within a workplace while improving the overall employee experience and satisfaction. While SMBs may struggle to find strong benefits packages for their employees, partnering with a professional employer organization (PEO) can help. PEOs leverage the collective strength of thousands of SMBs to deliver access to premium-level benefits, HR consultants and more. PEOs may allow businesses to provide access to health insurance and benefits from leading carriers. Access to premium benefits extend beyond medical, to dental, vision, life, disability, retirement, transit and a wide range of voluntary benefits. When you provide your workforce access to strong plans and options, stress levels decrease, and productivity is strengthened.

3. Encourage Open Communication Unfortunately, a lot of workplace stress may come from top-down positions. When employees don’t feel comfortable communicating with upper-level management, they have a higher risk of health problems and tend to feel more pressure while in the office. As an employer, you have the power to shape the employee experience and reduce stress caused by leadership issues. There are training classes and workshops that can help managers develop more effective communication methods and stronger delivery when providing constructive criticism. Making it clear to your workforce that the line of communication between bosses and employees is open can help combat interpersonal stressors and challenges.

4. Offer Adequate Paid Vacation Many Americans receive fewer paid vacation days than other Western countries. However, most of the workforce only ends up using half of their vacation time and some individuals don’t use any at all.4 Many employees could attribute this to having too much to do at work and may not feel comfortable leaving the office or unplugging for more than a few days. While productivity is important, taking vacation time off can help eliminate workplace stress and may actually improve output throughout the year. As an employer, try to encourage your workforce to use their vacation leave and make sure that you’re offering enough time off for them to enjoy it.

5. Consider Scheduling Team Outings Scheduling team outings can help improve office morale and facilitate stronger cooperation. Schedule events offsite and consider the interests of your employees. However, these outings should be during normal business hours to avoid cutting into your employees’ personal time or generating potential additional wage obligations. Some options could be happy hour at a nearby restaurant a group volunteer project or even a traditional company picnic. This can help improve interpersonal relationships at work while destressing together as a team.

6. Utilize Flexible Work Schedules Flexible work schedules give employees the opportunity to vary their start and stop times for their workday. This has shown to be an effective way of lowering workplace stress and increasing productivity, despite many original hesitations about this change. While flexible schedules may not work for all employees in all roles, it’s something to consider. If work isn’t time sensitive or dependent on typical business hours, give your employees options throughout the week to accommodate their needs and help reduce overall stress.

7. Provide Employee Recognition Your team works hard to advance organizational goals. When you take the time to recognize achievements and hard work, you show your employees what they’re doing matters. This can help alleviate stress, as recognition acts as a positive reinforcement they’re doing their job well. This recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. Even a verbal thank you or a thoughtful email from a manager to an employee can achieve positive results.

8. Encourage Breaks Throughout the Day While in the office, many exempt employees may adapt a non-stop work mentality. Depending on deadlines or their schedules, they may not even take a break to eat lunch. Instead, grab and go options become the norm and lunches are eaten over their keyboards. While this may be the norm in many workplaces, taking breaks can help employees avoid burnout while reducing overall stress levels. It’s important to unplug, stand up and move around. Try to encourage your exempt employees to take breaks throughout the day by offering on-site facilities, exercise classes, meditation spaces or even nap pods. If your employees are non-exempt, you will need to comply with applicable state and local requirements on providing meal and rest breaks throughout the day.

9. Make the Office Welcoming and Fun A great way to encourage breaks throughout the day is to make your office fun. By utilizing diversions throughout the building, you provide employees with creative ways to get up and move without having to leave the building. Many companies have been implementing these types of features and have seen extremely positive results in terms of workplace stress and overall productivity levels. Some options include adding a ping pong table, allowing employees to bring their pets to the office or even installing a few video games. While these diversions can seem counterintuitive at first, when used appropriately, they can transform the employee experience and help breed innovative ideas.

10. Understand Mandated Leave Requirements There are various mandated leave requirements at the federal, state, and local levels. Understanding these requirements, drafting applicable policies, and communicating them to your employees can reduce stress in times of emergencies. A lot of workplace stress is associated with life events that require time off, such as illness, pregnancy, childcare and death. Make sure that you stay up to date on mandatory time off requirements and, as you create and implement new polices to comply, communicate them thoroughly and in a timely manner to your team. This is especially true regarding state and local leave requirements in response to COVID-19. When your employees know that they can be covered when they get sick, workplace related stress decreases and they become more focused on their tasks at hand. Partnering with a PEO is a great way to help decrease work-related stress in your employees. Doing so gives you a team of HR experts who understand the intricacies of risk mitigation, employee benefits, payroll services and more. To learn more about how TriNet’s comprehensive HR solutions can help your business, contact us today.

1 “Workplace Burnout Survey,” Deloitte.

“Stressed Workers Costing Employers Billions,” Colonial Life (2019).

3 “2020 Was a Record Year for Feeling Stressed at Work,” World Economic Forum (2021).

4 “US workers could forfeit a record number of vacation days this year,” CNBC (2019).