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How to identify stress among employees

According to a recent study, approximately 40% of employees experience persistent stress or excessive anxiety on a daily basis in the workplace.

It’s a costly epidemic.

Karen Higginbottom over at Forbes writes, “Employees suffering from high stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absenteeism levels than those not working under excessive pressure…”

“The economic consequences also are alarming,” writes Rebecca Maxon over at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “Workplace stress costs U.S. employers an estimated $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses.

Apart from the effects experienced by the employing company and the overall economy, however, stress can also be harmful to the employee herself.

Increased levels of job stress, for instance, have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders.

Even the United Nations’ International Labor Organization has defined occupational stress as a “global epidemic.”


The question is: why are so many employees stressed?

There are many contributing factors to stress, but some of the more popular ones include:

  • Low salary
  • Lack of job security
  • Lack of opportunities for growth and advancement
  • A heavy workload
  • Unrealistic job expectations
  • Long hours, long commutes, and long meetings
  • Lack of non-monetary rewards and recognition at work
  • Lack of feeling valued by their employer
  • Negative relationships between coworkers
  • Unpleasant working environment

Over time, all of these factors can continue to add and build up, leading to low morale and, in some cases, even depression among employees. That’s because, according to an article on, “even relatively slight stress distracts an employee. People facing stress concentrate more on the repulsive feelings and emotions rather than on the work/job at hand and consequently their work performance suffers. Stress affects people’s intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal functioning.”


So how can leaders become more aware of workplace stress?

One way is to simply know the warning signs and symptoms of stress among employees.

They may look as follows:

  • Absenteeism, escaping from work responsibilities, arriving late, leaving early
  • Deterioration in work performance, more error-prone work, memory loss, trouble concentrating, missed deadlines
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work
  • Over-reacting, arguing, getting irritated, anxiety, depression, social withdrawal
  • Deteriorating health, muscle tension, headaches, stomach problems, more accidents
  • Improper eating habits (over-eating or under-eating), excessive smoking and drinking
  • Fatigue, sleeplessness

Be on the lookout for these common signs of workplace stress, and if you feel an employee may be struggling with coping with their stress, don’t be afraid to pull them aside and express your concern. Sometimes, an employee may just need a listening ear to express themselves. Other times, your intervention may be just what they need to connect with the right resources and learn more about better stress management.


“Creating a psychologically healthy workplace is good for employees and business results,” says Norman B. Anderson, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association. “This is a growing trend and it is our hope that all organizations will eventually have some type of psychologically healthy workplace program.”

In the weeks that follow, we’ll be sharing more strategies to guide you in helping your employees with stress and in creating a working environment that your employees can thrive in. After all, happier employees make for more productive employees and a more cohesive and positive team.

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