Responding to Employee Stress: Steps & Strategies

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Responding to employee stress is a challenging but crucial part of a manager's role. In this lesson, you'll learn about five steps to help address employee stress in a fair and confidential manner.

Workplace Problems: Employee Stress

Jesse leads a team of ten people in his role at the headquarters of a large chain of superstores. Recently, one of his employees approached him about a possible problem brewing between two other members of the team. Now that Jesse considers what he's been told, he has noticed that one of the employees at the center of the troubles has been struggling. He approaches her and she confides that she has been feeling a lot of stress on the job lately.

The problem is that Jesse doesn't really know where to start to help her. He's a relatively new team leader and certainly doesn't feel equipped to navigate the world of stressed-out employees.

Steps to Respond to Employee Stress

Let's look at five key steps that Jesse can take as a manager to help deal with employee stress. This may involve emotional, mental, and physical strain related to work demands and employees' abilities to meet those demands.

Step One: Reach Out

First things first, a manager should reach out to an employee or make themselves accessible for the employee to reach out to if they need to discuss the stress-related issue. Nothing can be addressed without first understanding and acknowledging that there is an issue.

In this conversation, Jesse can determine exactly what the problem is, what the source of the stress is, and if he is able to help take corrective action to address the issue. This can be performed in a formal or informal meeting but should be private and distraction-free to enable open and honest dialogue. Ask questions to get to the bottom of the problem and listen attentively.

Step Two: Get To The Core

Addressing the source of employee stress may be fairly manageable or completely out of Jesse's control. That's because stress exhibited in the workplace comes from a variety of sources. It could be related to the work environment, such as work overload or a lack of resources to adequately perform the job. It may be a toxic relationship with a co-worker or not having a clear understanding of roles or responsibilities. All of those can be treated with workplace adjustments.

It could be completely unrelated to the job, however, such as a financial struggle or a problem at home. Those issues are more difficult - if not impossible - to correct in the work environment.

Getting to the core of the issue, however, is central to fixing it. Once you understand the reasons behind an employee's stress, you can implement strategies to correct it. It's important, however, to include employees in those decisions. Changing someone's schedule, moving their office to another floor, or putting them on a new work team could be viewed as ''punishment'' to the employee feeling the stress. Changes, no matter how small, should involve the employee to help them feel in control.

Step Three: Find Appropriate Resources

Sometimes there will be situations that will be over Jesse's head. This is the time when he should recommend that the employee seeks additional help or support from an outside source, such as a friend, family member, or even a psychologist. The workplace may also have additional resources available, such as an employee assistance program, which helps employees with matters like addiction or mental health.

Employees who are dealing with stress related to outside influences, such as finances, health, or family, may need counseling, referrals to mental health professionals, or even medical assistance if physical symptoms are present, such as high blood pressure or migraines.

Step Four: Meet with HR

Jesse's fourth step should be to present the information to his Human Resources department. Why? Because Human Resources has many tools at its disposal to not only resolve employee stress but also prevent other employees from experiencing the same situation. For example, Human Resources could hire additional employees to reduce the workload on overtaxed employees or more clearly define an employee's role and responsibilities.

Maintaining confidentiality for the employee is important, and Human Resources can assist in that area as well, helping to squash rumors and handle matters in a way that doesn't cause undue attention or additional stress to the employee in question. Likewise, Jesse should ensure that the employee's confidentiality is kept within the team environment and that the employee dealing with the stress is treated fairly in handling the source of the problem and any changes born as a result.

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