Signs of stress in the workplace: How leaders can help

Managing people is part art, part science and infinitely complex. Recent criticism during these interesting economic times often centers on the dissatisfaction employees find in their work. While employers scramble to recruit and retain the best talent, they must ask themselves the tough questions about what makes people leave one working environment for another.

Stress is a significant source of frustration. It springs from an overwhelming workload and competing factors such as the physical environment and overall office culture. Here’s how credit union leaders can help when they identify signs of stress in the workplace.

Identifying Stress in the Workplace

How can credit union managers tell if employees have too much stress? Look for the following signs:

  • Increased absenteeism: Sometimes, absenteeism is unavoidable, but pay attention. Leaders shouldn’t ask about what PTO use is for. Still, many employees will volunteer the information if they anticipate needing significant time to relocate or tend to a sick family member.
  • Frequent illness: Workers might report to the office but sniffle, sneeze, and complain of stomach and headaches.
  • Rising tempers: Stress and burnout make staff less patient and more irritable. Pay attention to how they treat clients and each other.
  • Lost productivity: This may be the most noticeable sign. A private heart-to-heart with struggling team members can often reveal the source of the problem if they trust their boss enough to be honest.

Addressing Workplace Stress

What should leaders do after they identify signs of workplace stress? Consider the following five steps.

1. Redesign the Environment

The physical layout of an office can affect staff stress levels. For example, open floor plans can create a distracting din that leaves employees with headaches and feelings of sensory overwhelm by day’s end. Minor touches can make an instant difference, like using Pergo or carpet to replace a noisy tile floor.

Another factor is lighting. Sitting in a cubicle under bright fluorescents invites stress and fatigue — it’s like working in an emergency room. If possible, make maximum use of natural light, installing skylights and removing blinds from windows. This will protect staff members’ eyes while helping them produce natural vitamin D for increased energy and immune health.

2. Pay a Living Wage and Benefits

According to MIT, a living wage in America is $68,808 per year for a family of four. Assuming dual wage earners, that’s $16.54 per hour, double that rate for single individuals. Many jobs pay much less, leaving employees constantly stressed. Credit union managers can’t expect people to work at their productive best when they’re worried about how they’re going to keep a roof over their heads or put food on their tables.

It’s unfair that the United States requires employers to carry the burden of providing health insurance coverage, including dental and vision. However, doing so can make a life-or-death difference for some workers who may rely on insulin or other medical treatments to survive.

Even if employers can’t afford a comprehensive package, they can provide some perks. For example, many people decided to quit during the Great Resignation instead of returning to the office, so consider offering continued flextime and telecommuting options. Can the credit union partner with a local gym or child care center to provide benefits it might not otherwise afford?

3. Invest in Training

Similarly, many workers express frustration at job ads that request years of experience for entry-level positions. Provide people who hope to advance with meaningful tools, including on-the-job training. Pairing new staff with a mentor adds nothing to the bottom line while increasing camaraderie and showing newbies the ropes. Just make sure not to overwhelm senior credit union team members — remove something else from their plate to compensate.

Likewise, many people lack social skills because they don’t have the best role models. Managers are not therapists, but they should provide quality training on how to get along in the workplace. The law may require anti-harassment training, but leaders can go further and explain why certain behaviors aren’t OK instead of taking a “follow the rules or else” approach.

4. Normalize Taking Breaks

Companies can offer unlimited leave. However, managers should not expect staff to take advantage if they see them at work every day, burning the midnight oil while they clock out. They will look to leaders for an example, so they should normalize using PTO by taking an occasional vacation themselves.

Likewise, make it convenient to request leave. Many workers resist using PTO because they fear returning to a mountain of work, leading to more stress. Leaders should create a fair system for distributing the load and request employees’ input.

5. Keep Things Positive

People can sense the overall vibe of most workplaces within a few minutes of entering. Although they may work in a formal setting, the atmosphere should feel upbeat, relaxed and positive.

Much of the work starts with communication. Do credit union managers invite staff to contribute ideas or take a “my way or the highway” approach? Do they express appreciation when someone goes above and beyond?

Perform an office-culture temperature check by sending occasional satisfaction surveys. Keep them anonymous and consider constructive negative feedback — it’s the best way to identify what practices need to change.

How Leaders Can Combat Workplace Stress

Workplace stress hinders productivity. It can lead to high turnover and associated costs.

However, leaders can do much to ease the burden. Consider the five tips above to help address signs of workplace stress in your credit union.

Evelyn Long

Evelyn Long

Evelyn Long is a writer and the editor in chief of Renovated. Her work has been published by the National Association of REALTORS®, Training Journal and other online publications. Web: Details