09/14/2021 • 4 min read

How Stress Impacts Your Bottom Line and What to Do About It

Help employees feel safe, comfortable, and supported in the workplace

by Aaron Haworth

Stress is a natural part of life. When you throw a global pandemic, world events, or deeply personal reasons into the mix, feelings of stress and anxiety are bound to increase. Some researchers suggest the stress levels of nearly 60% of the population are greater now than they were pre-COVID-19 pandemic. 

One area where people are finding themselves experiencing increasing stress is at work. To help employees feel safe, comfortable, and supported today—and in the future—organizations can take several steps to help mitigate stress for employees.   

Workplace Stress and Burnout 
Stress occurs when individuals face situations where the demands—social, environmental, physical, work, or personal—exceed their resources and ability to respond in a healthy way. When people are stressed, it may be because they feel their resources are threatened. When stress grows, the risk of employee burnout or the state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion increases. 

To help people overcome burnout at work, organizations can support two types of resources: conditional resources and social support resources. 

  • Conditional resources are the objects and conditions in the physical spaces available in an organization—the built environment, ambient qualities, and task relevant resources necessary for an employee to do work.
  • Social support resources are the organizational policies, attitudes, and general social environment the employee experiences on a day-to-day basis. 

According to the American Institute of Stress, workplace stress can cause several problems for individuals. A deterioration of personal relationships, sleep deprivation, or the lack of ability to perform a job well are a few stress-related symptoms to be aware of. Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious mental health issues like depression. People who face long-term, sustained stress are also at greater risk of burnout in the workplace. In fact, before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, more than 25% of employees reported being at risk of burnout in the next 12 months. That number is likely much higher today.

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Financial Implications 
Stress has a major impact on an organization’s bottom line. Employees experiencing high levels of stress are more likely to suffer from absenteeism and report that their performance has declined due to stress. Attraction and retention issues, the loss of skilled workers due to burnout, and the added price of healthcare support for the physical and mental health needs of employees mean that efforts to reduce stress in the workplace are an investment well worth the cost.  

While organizations have limited ability to affect an individual’s personal resources—their mood, skills, health, and so on—employers do have the power to curate a physical workplace and organizational culture that promote the well-being of employees. Organizations must do what they can to “do no harm” and provide the necessary tools for employees to deal with whatever stressors they may be facing. 

4 Tips to Reduce Stress in the Workplace 
Research shows there are 4 design steps you can take to help reduce employee stress in the physical workplace. 

  1. Seek to create an ambient environment. Design workspaces with access to natural light, comfortable room temperatures, and noise management. 
  2. Make the workplace legible or easy for employees to navigate—knowing where everything they need, including coworkers, resources, and meeting spaces, is located creates a more stress-free environment.
  3. Provide a variety of spaces that meet the needs of different types of work. Support both collaborative and individual workspaces to reduce the stress an employee may have about workstation options.
  4. Design with user control in mind. Give employees autonomy over how and where they do their work in the office—like the ability to adjust their work chair, table, desk, orientation, or privacy level for their individual comfort.

The Need for Social Support 
Successful organizations embody an organizational culture that fosters trust and transparency, providing employees with significant levels of social support. Employers need to keep in tune with the desires and demands of their employees to help alleviate stress in the workplace. 

Strong organizational values and culture promote the wants and needs of employees. Today, flexibility in the workplace—where, how, and when work gets done as part of a work from anywhere approach—leads to greater stress reduction for employees. Giving employees the ability to take care of their personal life while still completing work tasks offers the best of both worlds.

Organizations have the power, tools, and ability to make changes or policy updates to reduce the stress levels of employees, leading to better outcomes for all. When stress levels are low, employees are happier and more productive. It’s a win-win—low stress is good for people and great for organizations. To improve employee morale, productivity, and well-being, organizations need to invest in workspace designs, applications, and accessories that work to reduce stress.

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