Employee stress has been on the rise for the last decade. And the last two years have set new records for the number of employees who say they experienced stress the day before—hitting 44% in 2023.1 Stress affects a person’s relationships and their ability to do their job—whether or not they show up for work.
That means employee stress is negatively affecting your business—from its morale and culture to its productivity. But you don’t have to be a licensed therapist to help your employees manage their stress levels. You just need to be a good leader who genuinely cares and helps employees by creating a healthy workplace culture that prioritizes their well-being and mental health.
If an employee is in a hard season of life, they need your support. Here are our eight tips for managing employee stress at work:
Offer a Financial Wellness Benefit
Provide Physical and Mental Health Benefits
Encourage Employees to Use Paid Time Off (PTO)
Set an Example
Set Clear Expectations for Employees
Implement Flexible Scheduling
Keep Lines of Communication Open
Equip Employees With Tools for Conflict Resolution
1. Offer a Financial Wellness Benefit
Nearly 60% of Americans—your employees—are feeling the pressure of rising inflation and the increasing cost of living. So, what can you do about it? Offer a financial wellness benefit!
Employees who take control of their financial situation feel more secure about their money and experience less stress. In fact, the 2021 SmartDollar Financial Wellness Benefits Study shows that 88% of employers who offer a financial wellness benefit say their employees report less stress because of it. A financial wellness benefit, like SmartDollar, teaches employees how to budget their money wisely, pay off debt, and build wealth. This can help them weather economic storms and help you significantly reduce financial stress as a distraction at work.
2. Provide Physical and Mental Health Benefits
Exercise is a great way to reduce and minimize stress. Your employees might not feel like exercising after a long day of work, or maybe they don’t want to pay for a gym membership. But you can inspire and motivate them to get out and get active with a fitness reimbursement.
And the same goes for mental health benefits. If you take away the “therapy is too expensive” excuse by offering benefits that help cover mental health expenses, your employees are more likely to get the help they need.
3. Encourage Employees to Use Paid Time Off (PTO)
Time away from work is an obvious way to lower stress. But just offering PTO in your employee compensation plan isn’t always enough. Why? Because about half of all employees don’t use up all of their PTO each year.2
You might think less time away from work means greater productivity, but you’d be wrong. Employees who use their PTO and actually unplug from work come back reenergized and motivated to do work that matters.3 And that translates into better productivity.
The best way to encourage your team to use PTO is to use your own—set an example!
4. Set an Example
No matter what benefits you offer, your employees will hesitate to use them if they suspect there’s some sort of unspoken rule against using them. And they’ll suspect that’s true if they never see you use your PTO, financial wellness benefits, or mental health benefits. That’s a cycle of stress you can avoid!
The truth is, talking about well-being is important—but your team needs to see you act on those words. More is caught than taught. Plus, you’ve put in the effort and money to make these benefits available. You need to take advantage of them too!
5. Set Clear Expectations for Employees
Every employee needs clear expectations for what it takes to win in their role. Otherwise, employees end up burned out and stressed out because they’ll eventually be asked to do work they’re not equipped to do.
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A Key Results Area (KRA) document outlines an employee’s responsibilities and areas of focus for growth so everyone is on the same page about expectations.
Every employee and their direct leader needs to iron out the details of what success looks like for them. By working together, they reduce any confusion about their role and responsibilities—and that means less stress for everyone involved.
6. Implement Flexible Scheduling
While there’s a lot of debate about the pros and cons of remote or hybrid work, you don’t have to offer either to give your employees some flexibility with their schedules. Flexible schedules allow employees to take time off during the workday for an appointment (or something else) and make up the time later in the week.
For example: Dan has an oil change scheduled for Monday morning. Instead of using PTO, he can choose to flex his time. He’ll come in a few hours later than normal on Monday, but he’ll stay late over the next couple of days so he finishes the week with 40 hours. Now he doesn’t have to worry about getting his oil changed Saturday morning and missing his daughter’s soccer game.
Flexible schedules can work wonders for stress levels, engagement and productivity. Your business still gets a full 40 hours of productivity, and employees are way less stressed about running out of sick time and PTO. It’s honestly the best of both worlds!
A system like this requires trust and communication. So, set expectations on the front end about how your team should communicate changes to their schedules and the importance of tracking their time.
7. Keep Lines of Communication Open
Even though this tip is toward the bottom, this is something every leader should do (and be doing already).
Communication is your best friend when leading a team. Your employees need to trust that they can talk to you at work, especially when it’s about stress.
Open communication fosters community in your company and helps everyone feel connected. At Ramsey Solutions, we keep lines of communication open in a few ways:
- We have weekly staff meetings with the entire team on Monday mornings.
- All team members fill out a Weekly Report that goes directly to their leader(s).
- Leaders have weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meetings to coach their team members and discuss any issues or obstacles affecting them.
- Team members are encouraged to bring problems to their leaders.
Go ahead and give these a shot!
8. Equip Employees With Tools for Conflict Resolution
What happens when you throw 10, 100 or even 1,000 people in a building for 40 hours a week?
Conflict happens in the workplace when two or more employees, regardless of their position, think differently about something and that disagreement affects their ability to work together. This can be the result of one big, catastrophic event. But more often it’s a slow burn. And that means leaders can get in front of the conflict before it becomes a big, catastrophic event.
Here are three ways you can help your employees with conflict resolution and minimize stress at work:
- Encourage them to talk with their leader. Employees need to feel safe enough to talk to their leaders if there’s conflict. If their leader is the person they’re having conflict with, they need to know they can go to another leader. Encourage employees to take negatives up, not out to their peers. A coworker can’t resolve their conflict. That’s just gossip. They need to talk to a leader who can take action to resolve the problem.
- Set up a meeting to discuss their differences. The best way to clear the air so coworkers can get back to work is to discuss their conflict. Schedule a meeting to have difficult discussions with both employees and at least one leader so you can get to the bottom of the issue together.
- Help them focus on the problem instead of the person. When a leader and two or more employees meet to discuss their differences, the goal is not for the unhappy employees to duke it out (verbally or otherwise). That’s just dumb and won’t help (even though it feels good in the moment). Instead, help them focus on the problem. With the right direction, they can save their working relationship and prevent future conflicts.
It’s Time to Put These Tips Into Action
Let’s be real here. Managing employee stress is a lot of work. Yes, some of these tips are easier to implement than others, but they’re all beneficial for your employees. Whether you’re an HR leader or a business owner, you're committed to taking care of your team. And they need you!
Start small with these tips. Figure out what you can do right away with minimal friction. Put that action into practice and build on it over time. And if you need more tips and helpful content about how to better serve your employees, find more resources here.