The impact of stress on your business

Stress is the silent killer of a happy workplace, and can be one of the biggest factors that lead to your employees losing motivation, and for executives being off work for significant amounts of time.
What we'll cover

About the impact of stress

Stress has a tremendous impact on your health and on your business. And, while it is possible to manage stress in both of these areas, there are unfortunately many people who experience negative effects of high levels of stress without any kind of mitigation.

This article (which will be long) will explore the various ways that an individual goes about managing their own stress levels while also providing advice on the best strategies for business management to protect themselves from a stressed-out workforce.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress is defined as “a condition that occurs when physical or emotional demands exceed the resources of a person or group. Physiological reactions to stress—increased heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, for example—contribute to many health problems.” [1] While this definition does give the reader a good idea of what stress is, it doesn’t help everyone who may have never heard of it before. So let’s go further in-depth in order to help the reader truly grasp the concept.

It says that these demands can include both physiological and emotional or mental stress. It then goes on to define the various parts of the body that are affected by stress. These areas include your brain, heart, muscles, lungs, stomach, intestines, bladder and kidneys.

But, it also goes into more detail by listing seven different categories in which one may experience stress:

  • physical / emotional / mental
  • work / finances
  • responsibilities
  • relationships
  • self-esteem
  • activity level
  • health

There are various ways that people may experience these various categories of stress. For instance, someone who has not been taking care of themselves mentally or emotionally may notice drastic changes in their health if they do not start to deal with such demands. The aforementioned categories of stress are then related to the seven primary categories of stress.

How does all of this impact business?

Stress can be a serious issue in a business. Acute stress (short term stress) can be beneficial, but chronic stress can lead to burnout, and burnout can result in employees’ performance significantly decreasing. Other times it may lead to other adverse effects such as illness.

So it is not uncommon to find businesses becoming lacklustre because of the long hours required in order to run one successfully.

Stressed CEOs

A 2008 study conducted by Keating et al. was done on American CEOs and found that 87% of them have attributed their level of stress to their jobs over the last year. The results show that nearly half of these CEOs were under chronic high-stress levels leading up to this study. They will each have a different stress response – such as eating too much, alcoholism, or other bad habits – but the end result from being on the job too long is burnout and a lack of emotional elasticity.

The study also shows that the type of stress that CEOs may face is a greater level of stress than others, such as those who are in the executive staff or non-CEO employees. The reasons for this are numerous, ranging from a greater responsibility to more difficult situations. However, while these factors may make the jobs of CEOs more difficult, they also contain the same factors that make them some of the best jobs: opportunities for advancement and promotion and a higher salary.

So what does this mean for businesses? Quite simply, that they need to become more proactive in managing stress. Employee stress is extremely costly to businesses.

According to a study done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the US, it says that “businesses lose $300 billion in employee “productivity” each year due to stress.

First and foremost, these businesses should employ wellness programs to help prevent the stress levels from being higher than expected. This may include chair massages, yoga, or swimming classes. Of course, these are not going to be affordable to all businesses, and some of them are not always feasible for a business to implement. However, they can always try to implement other types of wellness programs such as financial incentives for employees making healthy lifestyle choices, and so on.

Do what you can to help employees

Even if a business does not have the resources to afford these types of programs, it should still make an effort to implement better practices. For instance, the United States Army has created a standard handbook that details steps such as “Providing assistance with personal care tasks” and “Ensuring employees’ safety during physical stress.” The first one is obviously useful for some businesses, but it is also important for all businesses.

Even something as simple as improving the work environment – maybe improved lighting, or indoor plants, or an office dog – can help improve employees’ moods and work performance.

Also, employers should find ways to improve the positive interactions with their employees by making them a priority. For instance, they can have a morning meeting where employees get to ask questions and share ideas for improvements. This type of meeting may not necessarily improve work performance, but it is beneficial for improving morale, and morale will certainly affect an employee’s performance.

Finally, businesses should frequently communicate with their current workers to make sure they are feeling well both mentally and physically.

How to reduce work stress

Next, businesses need to understand how certain aspects of job stress can be mitigated.

In order to have any sense of what this means, we need to understand the brain and how it affects one’s stress levels. We know that stress is a mental phenomenon, but what exactly do we mean by this?

How we handle stress is individual

There are many things that the brain can do to prevent or reduce stress. For instance, some people may poorly handle a stressful situation in their life, such as being late for an appointment or something else.

While these things are not necessarily bad per se, they can still cause them to experience stress. These may be simple things like having to pay child support or something more serious like getting laid off from work. Regardless of what type of situation it might be, it causes stress. There are ways to get around these types of situations and become less stressed in regards to them as well.

Happy often means not stressed

Bringing it back to business, one of the best ways that businesses can reduce stress is by ensuring that their employees are happy.

This may seem like a simple, straightforward method, but it is often overlooked. Many times, the employees who have the most stressful jobs are not happy with them. The reason for this is usually because they do not feel like they have certain things: more pay, more autonomy in their job, or even just better working relationships with others.

We also know that if an employee is happier in their job and has a better working relationship with others at work then they are less likely to engage in bad workplace behaviours and ultimately be productive members of the team. Employee engagement will help improve their general wellbeing as well as their performance.

Another way that businesses can reduce stress is by ensuring that they are creating an environment where employees feel secure and supported. This means things like having a good safety culture such as having less illness or injuries on the job. We also know that happiness on other aspects of life (family, friends, etc.) goes hand in hand with good work performance and reduced sickness absence and ill health, all of which result in lower staff turnover. These are amazing for business.

Workplace stress is not a modern phenomenon; it’s as old as the beginning of time. But with the many different ways that it can be managed, and modern ways to help people do so, it can actually become less of a problem in the future.

Chronic stress for executives

Prolonged stress for executives can come from pressures outside of an organisation, such as the pressure from shareholders, or even just pressure to achieve certain goals. In order to lower these stress levels, it is important for executives to have realistic expectations of what they can and cannot accomplish and actually focus on them. They need to also be aware of what is out of their control and focus instead on what they can do.

Know your limits and set realistic expectations for yourself. Otherwise, your long term mental health may suffer, and with it your business will too.

Executives need to know that if they are stressed out it is okay to admit it and ask for help. This will make them feel less stressed than trying to tackle their problems alone. They also need to realise that there are many different ways in which stress can be managed, such as by talking with someone at work or taking a relaxing walk outside.

How can we combat stress at work? Here are a few ideas

Take breaks from work

This is an easy way to reduce stress levels if you are just getting started with new projects or just starting to feel overwhelmed from pressure at work. Take short breaks throughout the day where you can simply do something for yourself, whether it be reading or watching a funny YouTube video instead of spending the whole day working on a project only you’ll never finish. This may not seem like a big difference, but it will be important in the long run if not taking these breaks during stressful times. You will be able to finish those tasks much more quickly and they may even turn out better than when you started!

Get organised

If you work at home or in a small office, it’s not hard to get overwhelmed with the mess or piles of paper that come from everyday life. One of the best ways to combat stress is to get organised and minimise the amount of little things that pile up throughout the day, causing you to feel overwhelmed.

There are plenty of apps and organisers that can help keep your life organised and free from clutter that could be making you stressed out! But if you prefer a paper task list, go with that.

Learn how to say no

One way to reduce stress from work is learning how to say no when asked for certain things. Boundaries are very important in any situation and should be made in a healthy way. This is especially important to maintain yourself emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Sometimes when people are asked to do things outside their comfort zone, they can sometimes feel burned out or overwhelmed.

This often leads to the person doing more than they should and having to spend even more time doing it.

Some people will have no problem saying yes, which is okay, but I would like to remind you that you do not owe anyone anything in your life! When deciding whether or not you want to say yes or no know exactly what you want from each person so that you will not feel taken advantage of or used. Learn to set boundaries with difficult people in your life and organisation.

Learning to manage stress can have many different effects on an individual, but it is important that they learn how to do so in order to live a more productive work life.

Everyone has different reasons for being stressed as well as different ways in which they cope with stress. It is important for people to remember that not everyone has the same coping mechanisms, or even those that do won’t work for them all of the time.

For instance, while taking a bath may seem like a great way of calming down, it will not help some people because they prefer other methods of managing their feelings or problems.

If you’re an executive suffering from chronic stress at work, please do get in touch and let’s discuss ways to alleviate the situation.

Create more success

If you’re an entrepreneur, executive, business owner or freelancer who’s feeling lost in a maze, I would be happy to lend a hand.

What should you read next?