Reducing Workplace Stress: A Guide for Employers

Reducing Workplace Stress: A Guide for Employers

Not all workplace stress is bad. In fact, a little on-the-job stress improves alertness and job performance, can encourage employee bonding and help staff to overcome challenges.

But workplace stress is like adding salt to a dish; a little makes the flavor pop, while too much ruins the whole meal. Too little is much better than too much.

And unfortunately, most workplace stress is the bad, over-the-top kind. What's worse is that it comes from seemingly everywhere: low salaries, long hours, heavy workloads and competing priorities, as well as a lack of job security and concerns about the overall office atmosphere.

While employees have some ingredients to manage their stress levels, it’s really hard to take salt out of a dish once it’s been added. And, luckily, employers have a whole pantry at their disposal to help reduce workplace stress before it gets overwhelming.

So, let's make sure we're using the right recipe to keep the workplace flavor right. That way employees can have a good (small) amount of stress and not the all-too-common burnout and negative health effects from stress.

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How common is stress in employees?

Stress is a familiar foe in our careers, so much so that it's a leading reason many of us call in sick. With 83% of U.S. workers battling job-related stress, it's hardly surprising. Moreover, for 76% of employees, the stress doesn't stop at the office door – it seeps into their personal lives, disrupting more than just their workday. Alarmingly, for one in four employees, their job is the primary source of stress in their lives, underlining just how much our work environments impact our overall well-being.

Over in the U.K., the numbers tell a similar story. The Health and Safety Executive reported that nearly 914,000 workers experienced work-related stress, anxiety or depression during the 2021/2022 period. This accounted for 51% of all work-related health issues and led to 55% of all sick days taken.

These are shocking statistics, but apart from wanting your employees to have happier, less stressful lives, why should this matter to you as an employer?

Because it's hitting your bottom line. When stress is causing your team to take more days off, it hits productivity. And when they’re stressed at work, chances are they're unable to give their best.

Stress costs your business a hefty sum, about 75% of what you'd pay an employee in a year, just to deal with the fallout from stress-related absences and the drop in productivity.

What's stressing out your team?

Stress triggers vary wildly from one person to the next, but the CIPD 2022 Health and Well-being at Work survey and Zippia's workplace stress statistics found that the biggest stress triggers in the workplace were: 

  • Overloaded to-do lists 
  • Management styles that don't click 
  • Personal or family issues 
  • Health concerns 
  • Balancing work and life due to working from home 
  • Workload 
  • Job security concerns

An employee's relationship with their manager is a major cause of stress, and the Zippia research showed that 80% of workers say that a change of leadership affects their stress levels.

Bad communication is another big factor, with 80% of U.S. employees reporting it as a major reason they felt stressed at work. 

Spotting the signs of stress

Knowing the warning signs of stress can help you catch issues before they balloon. These can include:

  • Engagement issues  
  • Dysfunctional workplace behavior 
  • Changes in mood/ well-being 
  • Performance issues

Stress can look different for everybody. Some people can struggle with concentration and interpersonal work relationships, while others may experience physical symptoms or behavioral changes. Any out-of-the-ordinary behavior may indicate that an employee is struggling with stress.   

How you can help

So, what can you do to turn the tide on stress in your workplace? Here are some strategies:

Salary benchmarking

Are your teams getting the paycheck they deserve? Given that a lot of stress at work can be tied to financial worries, it might be time to take a closer look at how you can back them up in this area.

Salary benchmarking could be a good start. This means looking into what employees in similar roles earn in other businesses and comparing that with what you offer. This ensures that your employees feel treated fairly. People will be less stressed if they don't think they can get paid better for the same role elsewhere.


When employees feel out of control over their own tasks, they are more susceptible to stress and less likely to be productive. After all, who wouldn't want to feel trusted with their own work?

According to Gallup's research, allowing employees autonomy in deciding tasks, time allocation, and schedules reduces burnout by 43%. 

Giving employees independence and control over their schedules can significantly lower stress levels, though it may be daunting for employers to implement.

Job shadowing is a useful tool to facilitate a smooth transition for new employees. By closely observing and receiving guidance from senior team members, employees can gain confidence and proficiency in their tasks, which enables them to work independently. This approach makes employees more comfortable and gives employers confidence in their team's abilities, thereby reducing the stress that may arise from feeling unsupported.

Manager training

Managers play a pivotal role in alleviating stress among their team members but also require support. Managers need to be trained in identifying signs of stress, helping their employees and conducting sensitive conversations.

As they are the first point of contact when an employee is stressed, managers must know how to develop a supportive environment within their team.

The CIPD has outlined five key behaviors managers should have to reduce workplace stress. These include:

  • Being open, fair and consistent 
  • Handling conflict and people management issues 
  • Providing knowledge, clarity and guidance 
  • Building and sustaining relationships 
  • Supporting development

Investing in training and support to enhance managers' abilities in these areas can significantly reduce workplace stress. We also need to remember that managers are employees and need the same level of support to avoid burnout. 

Health and wellness

Motivating employees to look after their health is an important way to help reduce their stress levels. Have a work culture that encourages employees to prioritize their well-being by not discouraging them from taking breaks from their desks for walks, coffee breaks or socializing with colleagues. 

Come up with ideas to get them up and about, such as walking meetings, fitness challenges or a weekly yoga class at work. Giving your employees access to free counseling sessions or free access to meditation apps is a great idea to help them manage their stress. While health and wellness are important in managing stress, they must be used with other factors that tackle the root cause of stress, such as flexible work and workload reduction. 

Identifyingstress causes

You can be proactive in reducing stress in the workplace. After all, prevention is always better than the cure.

Performing a stress risk assessment can be useful to see what stressors your employees are dealing with. This is an evaluation of what factors within the workplace are stress-inducing. 

Speaking openly about stress can be difficult for some employees, so it may be a good idea to send out a regular pulse survey so that they can answer questions anonymously and you can identify the most important areas for improvement.

Common stressors include job demands, workload, working environment, job control and levels of support and supervision. Once the underlying causes of work-related stress are understood, employers can develop a stress management plan, implementing policies tailored to address them. 

Workload management

Excessive workload is a major cause of workplace stress. Unrealistic expectations about how much they can do in a day can be due to a lack of understanding of their job and managers assigning them too much work. Some businesses are understaffed, and employees may have to work outside their roles.

A hustle culture can have a negative impact and lead to employees working longer hours or taking on too much work. In addressing these issues, regular check-ins between managers and their direct reports can provide insight into workload, help prioritize tasks and identify necessary actions.

Training in time management techniques could benefit employees feeling overwhelmed, while others might require assistance with low-priority tasks, which could be solved by hiring additional staff or virtual assistants. 

Flexible working

Flexible working can improve employees' work-life balance and reduce stress. Are your 9-5 shifts necessary for all staff? Instead, you could introduce core hours, such as 10-12 and 2-4, during which everyone must be available, allowing them to choose their own working hours outside of these times. You could also allow them to work whenever suits them best.

Speak to your employees individually to find out what works best for them. The impact of flexible working can be significant, and one study found that a whopping 97% of participants believed that a more flexible job would greatly improve their quality of life.

Remote working

Like flexible working hours, many employees believe their stress levels would decrease if they could opt for remote work instead of commuting to the office daily. The average U.S. worker spends 52.2 minutes commuting each day, causing significant stress. Research indicates that 71% of employees desire to work from home to alleviate commute-related stress. 

Remote working also has other benefits. Survey respondents noted that it would decrease distractions (75%), interruptions from colleagues (74%), involvement in office politics (65%) and provide a quieter (60%) and more comfortable (52%) work environment. 

For individuals sensitive to sound, a quiet workspace can reduce work-related stress. Providing the option for remote work gives employees the flexibility to choose what works for them.

Improving the work environment

Whether you offer remote working or not, consider enhancing the space your team works in. Providing quiet places for privacy and focus can support employees who find the office too busy, have noise sensitivities or need confidential calls or conversations.

Toolkits with 'do not disturb' signs for when focus time is needed, encouraging employees to block out no meeting times in their calendars and offering earplugs for noise sensitivity to help drown out distractions can make the workplace more comfortable.

Fulfillment at work

Employees who feel a sense of purpose and see clear paths for career advancement tend to be happier and more productive.

Implementing a performance review framework that facilitates open dialogue about goals and expectations can reduce stress about the future. Setting clear goals and ambitious targets creates a sense of achievement.

Training and personal development support enhance job satisfaction and build trust within the team. Investing in your employees is wise since they are your most valuable asset.

Team relationships

Employees can experience stress at work due to poor interpersonal relationships. While team-building events may not solve everything, investing in building relationships and promoting open communication channels is important.  

 Regular one-on-one meetings between managers and their direct reports are essential, but it's also important for team members to provide feedback to each other. Creating a culture of openness and honesty is vital, along with establishing frameworks for conflict resolution.

Reduce stress in your workplace

Reducing workplace stress requires collaborative efforts from both employers and employees. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, but initiatives like training leaders to identify stress signs and implementing flexible working practices can help. Engaging in open dialogue with employees to identify and address stressors leads to happier, more productive workers with better work-life balance.