Big Disconnect Between Employers and Employees When it Comes to Stress

Julie Shenkman
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Employers and staff alike have reasons to worry about workplace stress. For employees, long-term stress can lead to burn out and health problems; businesses lose when stress at work impacts worker performance. Reducing stress means working together and pinpointing the reason employees feel overwhelmed or burdened. According to research, though, business leadership often misses the mark on this issue.

Workplace stress is a common problem, and resolving some workplace issues can be the key to reducing stress in employees, increasing team morale, boosting productivity and supporting the overall health of the workforce. Employers and employees usually have a difference of opinion when it comes to identifying the causes of workplace stress, however.

A survey from Willis Towers Watson illustrated this divide. Employers pointed to organizational change and difficulty balancing personal and professionals lives as top stress points. For leadership, company culture didn't factor much into stress at work, though employees ranked it as a top-three problem. In the same survey, employees pointed to more personal issues as the reason for workplace stress. In addition to a poor company culture, team members felt that unclear expectations about job performance and low pay cause a lot of stress.

Differing perspectives on what causes stress leads to the development of ineffective programs on stress management, according to some experts. When employers believe work-life balance is a top issue, they attempt to mitigate workplace stress with lifestyle programs. Some companies offer in-house yoga and meditation, massage or other health and wellness initiatives, masking the problem of stress by treating only the symptoms. While these programs might work for some employees, leadership and human resource departments must fully understand root causes and address those causes for long-term workplace stress management.

One way employers can better understand how stress occurs and impacts staff members is to occasionally step into a team member's shoes. Business owners or executive-level employees might be overwhelmed with constant decision-making or the responsibility of their position, impacting their ability to make smart business choices. A team member handling the same task daily, in contrast, might be overwhelmed by the constant flow of work and ever-changing instructions from above that make it difficult to meet goals. By working closely with a variety of team members, managers and executives can better understand and possibly solve the problems that impact employees on a daily basis.

Employers might also gauge employee stress levels and causes with blind surveys. Many workers are hesitant to voice problems in meetings or email about an issue if their name is attached. Anonymous surveys can give employers an honest assessment of team morale.

A healthy, happy workforce helps businesses increase production and reduces human resource issues. Managers and human resource departments can work together to reduce workplace stress by aiming to eliminate the root cause of stress rather than treating the symptoms.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at


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