Workplace stress is the inevitable outcome of having to get a lot done within a limited time-frame, while being accountable for your performance. Up to a point, this keeps people motivated.
However, if stress levels are too high, it ultimately detracts from performance. Employees who are overly stressed are likely to be unhappy and less productive. They are also less likely to stick around over the long-term.
So what are the most effective ways to reduce stress in the workplace?
Promote work life balance
Essentially, this means encouraging your staff to find a middle way between working hard and enjoying life.
While most managers like seeing their team putting in solid hours, this can be counterproductive beyond a certain point. Excessively long hours are associated with high levels of stress, burnout and poor retention rates.
Make it clear to staff that they should be out the door by a certain time each day. If you notice a particular employee who is regularly working late, have a quiet word with them.
Then there is the life side of the equation.
Some people will take care of this themselves, preferring to spend free time with family and friends. Others enjoy mixing with colleagues. If there are no social activities surrounding work, they will feel like something is missing.
For the majority of Australian workplaces, Friday night drinks is the go-to option. There is some logic to this. Put on drinks and food and you will generally get a decent turnout and importantly, people will enjoy themselves.
Just beware of the downsides. Occasionally merriment can give way to less socially appealing behaviours. Prevent this by putting a strict time limit on proceedings, serving plenty of food and avoiding strong liquor. Offer people a cab charge to get home and formally let them know that if they choose to head out afterwards, that is entirely on their own time. An e-mail from HR will do the trick.
Another practical step for promoting work life balance is to form a social committee. Have people volunteer, or nominate staff members who are good at bringing people together. Allow them time to meet during work hours and allocate a budget for social events. Then leave it in their hands to arrange these.
Be flexible and allow staff to be themselves
This is closely related to promoting work life balance. However, it is so critical to reducing workplace stress that it deserves a separate heading.
As a manager, it is important to remember that each of your staff is an individual with a life outside work.
While it is reasonable to expect a certain level of professionalism, people should not feel like they are expected to leave their personality at the door. Nor should staff feel that their personal lives cannot encroach on their work lives. Everyone needs to take a personal call from time to time or run an errand. Give staff the flexibility to do this without feeling guilty and you will have a much happier team.
Encourage physical activity
Physical activity is among the best ways to reduce stress. When you exercise your body releases endorphins, hormones that induce a sense of calm and well being.
So how do you get your staff moving?
If you are lucky, it will happen organically. Do everything you can to encourage this. For example, if a group of employees approach you about forming a team to play in a local competition, offer your full support, financial and otherwise. Having staff participate in team sports has the added benefit of fostering camaraderie.
Installing a small gym in the workplace is another good way to inspire your people to break a sweat. Make sure they know that they are free to take a short break during work hours for this purpose.
If this is not feasible, do a deal with a local gym and offer employees free membership. Aside from keeping your current crop of talent fit and happy, this is a great perk to offer job candidates.