How to Cut the High Price Of Employee Stress

Every manager wants to fill their ranks with ambitious go-getters. We’re all on the hunt for those who would describe themselves as ‘perfectionists’ in an interview, and who are constantly competing against themselves to improve their game and excel in new and exciting ways.

This sounds great in theory, but there’s a chance that by pushing your employees further and further, you are causing a high degree of stress — and this stress could be costing your company dearly. In fact, according to a recent source, workplace stress is costing employers $500 billion annually. Another work health survey suggests that stress contributes to higher rates of absenteeism, with 33% of respondents saying they always, often, or sometimes miss work due to stress.

On a personal level, employees who suffer from undue stress at work have difficulties making important business decisions, or suffer from erratic thought processes, which is bound to affect performance. Employees who are stressed are generally overwhelmed, don’t enjoy their work, and are actively seeking work opportunities which are more suited to them in order to prioritize their mental health.

It’s certainly clear, then, that there are many dangers of workplace stress. Below, we’ll explore ways you can adapt your performance management system to combat employee stress and encourage a healthier environment.

Set Realistic Objectives

When writing SMART objectives, it is important for them to be stretching. After all, employees who aren’t challenged at work get bored and frustrated. On the other side of the coin, however, employees shouldn’t be given objectives that are unrealistic or impossible. This creates a culture of failure and drives employees to work themselves to the bone to achieve goals that are, by their very nature, unachievable. This is a recipe for disaster, and can only result in employee burnout.

Instead, work closely with employees to construct objectives that encourage them to slowly but surely stretch their abilities and grow. This steady pace will encourage development, while allowing employees to keep a calm head on their shoulders.

Eliminate Stack Ranking Systems

Certain performance management tools fall out of favor as our understanding of psychology and motivation advances — and without a doubt, stack ranking is one of them.

Stack ranking is also known as ‘forced ranking’. This system requires managers to rank all their employees on a bell curve. Typically, the bottom 10%, labeled as ‘low performers’, are fired.

This system has earned a terrible reputation over the years, and experts state that it is a huge source of employee discontent. Stack ranking results in extreme employee stress. There is never a sense of job security, you’re constantly worried about whether or not you’re advancing at a fast enough pace, and theoretically, you could objectively be a great employee and still be dismissed. Such a system also discourages team building and collaboration.

If you’re still utilizing stack ranking, it’s advised that you look for a more flexible system that is based on meaningful feedback and ongoing training.

Prioritize Regular, Meaningful Communication

Work can be stressful at the best of times, but it becomes infinitely more bearable when you know you have an understanding manager to turn to. Increasingly, companies are incorporating the use of continuous performance management and regular check-ins. These performance check-ins allow manager and employee to develop a trusting relationship. As a result, employees feel they have someone in authority to talk to when things get overwhelming. What’s more, regular performance discussions in place of annual appraisals have been shown to save significant management time.

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Act On Feedback

When employees tell you exactly what they need in order to feel less stressed and more productive, take their feedback seriously. Don’t add it to a never-ending list that is never going to be addressed. Show your employees they are a priority and that you want them to feel comfortable at work. Otherwise, you’re reinforcing a sense of hopelessness and that nothing will ever get better, and you’re likely going to lose great employees to your competitors.

Provide the Tools Employees Need

You can’t expect employees to be content, comfortable and productive if you provide them with outdated software or no software at all. Millennials are filling the ranks of almost every office in the world now, and they grew up with technology. They turn to it to manage their lives and their work. Technology such as performance management software can help employees track their objectives, it can schedule check-ins with management and it can provide much-needed real-time feedback that could make all the difference in a high-stress situation.

Be Flexible and Accommodating

Perhaps it’s your workplace processes that are causing undue stress. When was the last time you addressed your attitude and policy towards flexible working? Factors such as lengthy daily commutes, family obligations, and medical appointments can weigh on an employee’s mind. Take a weight off their shoulders by considering a more flexible approach to work. Judge employee performance on objectives achieved and milestones accomplished rather than hours spent at a desk and you will see a notable improvement in their productivity and performance.

Stuart Hearn is a leading performance management specialist who has been working in the HR sector for over 20 years. He is passionate about moving performance management forward and is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system. He previously worked for Sony Music Publishing and was a co-founder of PlusHR.

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