Addressing management issues

Dec. 1, 2010

Stress on the job

Q Talk of cutting costs and speculation about layoffs have caused stress among the staff in our facility. I do not anticipate any further cuts in our department, but the rumor mill runs rampant. What can I do to help minimize employee stress?

A Stress may seem like a “personal” problem instead of a “personnel” problem; but stress directly affects absenteeism, turnover, productivity, and workplace safety, which are all of great concern in the laboratory. A good first step is identifying what stresses your employees face.

According to the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, some of the top sources of stress in the workplace include a variety of easily addressed employee complaints.

Lack of control. The less control employees have over their jobs, the greater their stress. Give employees the opportunity to participate in decisions that affect their jobs.

Lack of communication. Communicate early and often. Keep employees informed of everything. They will get information through the “grapevine” if you do not tell them. Management also needs to listen to employees. Solicit and consider employee suggestions, comments, and complaints.

No appreciation. Praise employees for jobs well done. Offer rewards and incentives, if possible.

No feedback. Employees need to know how they are doing and whether they are meeting your expectations.

Career and job ambiguity. People need to know what is expected of them. Be clear about performance goals and room for advancement.

Unclear policies. Communicate company policies clearly, especially if there has been a change in leadership or ownership. Make sure everyone knows the policies and adheres to them. Actions consistent with policies are as important as the policy. Everyone must be held accountable — especially management. Be a good example.

Pervasive uncertainty. This results from inadequately explained or unannounced changes. Meet with people to review changes. Follow up with a written policy so everyone is aware of changes.

Unfairness. Treat everyone the same. No one should receive special treatment or be singled out as an example.

Having too much or too little to do. Make sure work is divided evenly and properly prioritized. Some employees are stressed because they simply have too many responsibilities. Others have fewer responsibilities and believe they may be perceived as expendable.

Job security. Communicate with your employees what you know about plans for future workforce cuts. Keep in mind that those left behind after the layoffs are experiencing increased workloads and greater responsibilities — some for which they may not have been adequately trained.

Conduct a survey in your own department to learn what your employees find most stressful. Ask for their suggestions and incorporate changes to combat stressful situations.

-Christine Dobb, MT(ASCP), Retired
Columbus, OH

A In today’s economy, employees are more stressed than ever, working with fewer resources and expected to deliver more. According to the International Stress Management Association, reducing stress in the workplace is not merely a matter of reducing workloads, it is a matter of creating an atmosphere where employees are motivated, committed, and excited about their work. The happier a person is with his job, the easier it is for him to deal with on-the-job stressors.

Some concerns expressed by employees that add to job dissatisfaction include poor teamwork; ineffective supervision or management; personal conflicts with co-workers or management; employees not given enough control over their work; inadequate staffing or budget; management and employees not communicating openly; management perceived as unsupportive; reduction in employee benefits; and lack of recognition.

When stressed, employees can become resistant to change, defensive, aggressive, paranoid, and distrustful. The company employee-assistance program can be useful for employees who need help dealing with stress.

Layoffs have become almost commonplace today; and if the organization’s leaders fail to communicate effectively in this situation, they are creating confusion, which leads to a stressful environment — and an overactive gossip mill. As the department supervisor or manager, you must do what is within your power to alleviate your employees’ stress by eliminating some of the primary causes. Solicit feedback from your staff to find out what is causing stress in your department and what you can do about it.

The way managers handle employees’ fears and concerns can make a big difference in maintaining a stable, healthy workforce. While everyone might be pulling heavier loads, each employee should be recognized for his extra efforts. Above all, keep calm in the face of chaos, because your staff is looking to you for direction and assurance.

-David Lee, PhD
HR Consultant
Boston, MA

Bottom line: It sounds like the rumors are a source of the stress. If you know a rumor is being circulated, stop it. Out the rumor and communicate the facts to staff. If you stop the gossip, some level of stress should be eliminated.

C. Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice consultant with
State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN, and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at [email protected].