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Sweeping Employee Training and Management

10 Biggest Causes of Workplace Stress

If workplace stress is a problem, here are some tips to getting solutions.

by Dale Collie Dale Collie

According to, Americans spent more than $17 billion for anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs in 2002, up 10% from the year before and nearly 30% over a two-year period.

While these trends might be caused by some who are simply intolerant to stressful situations, it should also be recognized that properly managed circumstances can reduce stress, maximize employee productivity, and improve the living conditions of everyone.

Out of control stress also costs companies through increased absenteeism, lack of enthusiasm for the job, poor performance, and bad attitudes. Improvements in each of these areas can bring improved productivity and increased profits.

To find out what is most stressful to employees, Bill Wilkerson, CEO of The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, conducted a survey and reported the ten top sources.

As you'll see, all ten of these stress causing situations are related to leadership communications. The names Wilkerson gave each of these causes are in quotation marks.

10. "The treadmill syndrome"

Employees who consistently have too much or too little to do creates a lot of stress. Some employees are highly stressed because they simply have too many responsibilities. Others work around the clock, not necessarily on the clock, but throughout the day and at home. These are generally the employees who have too much to do and too many responsibilities.

workplace stress photo

Solution: You can control stress caused by the treadmill syndrome by making sure work is evenly divided and properly prioritized. Sometimes you can save money by hiring additional employees and reducing the additional costs of excessive stress.

9. "Random interruptions"

Interruptions keep employees from getting their work done - telephones, walk-in visits, supervisor's demands.

Solution: You can control this type stress by encouraging proper time management, delegation of responsibilities, and clarification of expectations.

8. "Pervasive uncertainty"

Uncertainty is created by constant, unsatisfactorily explained or unannounced change.

Solution: Keeping everyone well informed can reduce stress and improve productivity. Take time to meet with people and put the details in a written memo so they can review the facts after the emotions cool down.

7. "Mistrust, unfairness, and office politics"

These situations keep everyone on edge and uncertain about the future. Management of trust and fairness is just as important as any other management tool. If people cannot trust management, performance goes down. And, everyone is affected if even one employee is treated unfairly.

Solution: You have to make sure everyone is treated fairly - in fact and in perception. Word spreads quickly, and everyone sympathizes with the "victim," as they see it. They feel they will be treated the same way.

Unfairness can also be seen in management's acceptance of those who thrive on office politics.

Solution: Do not reward office politics in any way. Verbally reprimand those who are negative about others or those who spread rumors. If their statement isn't uplifting, don't let them make the comment about others.

If you fail to take action, morale goes down and stress goes up.

6. "Unclear policies and no sense of direction"

Lack of focus causes additional uncertainty and undermines confidence in management.

Solution: Clear communication of policies and company goals is required, and it must go beyond the management level.

Not all middle managers are good at communicating these important subjects, so top management must communicate in a such a way that everyone is clear on where the company is going and what company policies are enforced.

Use memos, articles, personal meetings, small groups, announcements and anything else that reinforces your policy. Repetition is important. Actions consistent with policy are more important as the words.

workplace stress

5. "Career and job ambiguity"

If people are uncertain about their jobs and careers, there is a feeling of helplessness and of being out of control. This goes beyond the job description and annual performance review.

Solution: People want to know that their job is secure and know what is expected of them. Many employees also want to know about career progression and what they must do to advance.

Keep people informed of business situations, threats, and obstacles that must be overcome. They'll find out through the grape vine if you don't tell them. There is no such thing as a secret, so be right up front with everyone.

You don't want to be an alarmist, but these people have families to take care of. Some of them are applying for mortgages, loans, and other financial commitments that they might not make if they are as fully informed as you are.

4. "No feedback - good or bad"

People want to know how they are doing, and whether they are meeting expectations. If you don't communicate your thoughts on their performance, they are stressed about how well they are doing.

Solution: Daily or weekly confirmation can help reduce stress significantly. Managers who wait until year end to explain job performance are about 51 weeks too late.

3. "No appreciation"

Failure to show appreciation for employee participation generates stress that endangers future efforts.

Solution: Daily, weekly, and monthly appreciation will help reduce stress and increase profits.

2. "Lack of communications"

Poor communication up and down the chain of command leads to decreased performance and increased stress.
Solution: Just as it is important to keep people advised of company policies and changes they can expect, management needs to listen to employees. Improved communications up the chain of command can give people a chance to pass along ideas, suggestions, and complaints, reducing stress and helping achieve more.

1. The greatest stressor in the workplace is "lack of control"

Employees are highly stressed when they feel like they have no control over their participation or the outcome of their work.

Solution: Savvy managers know the value of employee suggestions, comments, and input on the business as they participate. Very few managers know as much about the individual jobs as those doing the work day after day.

Stress control is a leadership responsibility. Those who ignore prevailing stress levels are negligent in their duties. Grasping the concepts and reducing stress one step at a time can have an amazing impact on the bottom line and on the lives of those who do the heavy work.

Copyright 2005 - Dale Collie
Dale Collie is a professional speaker & former US Army Ranger, CEO, and university professor. Advising business leaders on corporate stress control, improving productivity, and increasing profits. Author of "Winning Under Fire: Turn Stress into Success the US Army Way" (McGraw-Hill)

You may reach Dale via email sent to:, and subscribe to his e-newsletter, "Stress Management - Timely Tips," at

This article was added to on Veteran's Day, 11.11.05.

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