Stress can be a good thing. It’s what motivates you to run for the door when you hear the fire alarm sound. But that feeling is short-lived and then your body has time to recover. Can you imagine operating under that level of stress for longer periods of time? Or even a slightly lesser version of that stress — constantly? That’s exhausting and can cause serious health problems and drain productivity.
If your employees are chronically stressed, they won’t be doing their best work and your organization will suffer for it. Some overstressed employees will come to you and tell you about the problem, but others will put on a happy face and try to push through it, so you need to know the warning signs there’s a problem.
“Email is the canary in the coal mine for stress. Someone who sends email late at night and early in the morning is working too much, and therefore is guaranteed to be overstressed,” says author and work-life coach Greg Marcus. If your organizational culture demands emails be answered immediately or at odd hours, this may be contributing to employees’ stress.
This is also true if an employee receives more than 100 emails a day or has a significant number of unread emails piling up. Your IT department can help you identify these employees.
Increased absenteeism or illness
Stress takes an enormous physical and mental toll on the body. It can contribute to over 70 percent of all doctor visits, says Cynthia Ackrill, a physician who specializes in stress management. Stress contributes to headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, depression and even skin problems.
The health problems Ackrill describes can all be serious enough to cause an increase in sick days and absenteeism. If work is the cause of the stress, however, employees may be sick and not use their sick days. An employee who is stressed and not taking care of themselves can be vulnerable to illnesses and “because of the workload, they may come to work sick and spread it to others,” says certified executive coach Susan C. Foster.
Increased conflict and irritability
Stress can effect individual employees in different ways, but when multiple people are under stress, the ripple effects of irritability, lack of patience and short fuses can lead to conflict, says Alyssa Johnson, a small business consultant.
If an entire department is under a short deadline, cuts are being made company-wide, or everyone is stressed in general, this will breed conflict and fear, she explains, fear of “losing one’s job or being singled out. This causes individual members to second guess themselves at every turn making them less productive. This overall atmosphere of fear, stress and conflict prevents team members from thinking creatively and finding unique solutions.”
If the marketing department used to be the squeaky wheel, and now they aren’t — that’s a bad sign. “When the complaints stop, it’s time to worry,” says Justin Nassiri, founder and CEO of VideoGenie, a tool for recording and displaying customer feedback online. Although you may not want to hear them, complaints are a stress gauge and can give you an idea of things to fix. If the complaints suddenly stop, the staff may feel like their feedback isn’t being heard or valued.