Most of us have had at least one boss who tells workers to “leave their personal problems at the door!” But that advice was never very realistic. And in this day of texting, social media, and a phone in everyone’s pocket, it’s even less likely.

The communication age makes it more important than ever to make stress management a high priority both to keep workers safer and to avoid hits to your company’s bottom line. But before you begin to tackle how to reduce stress, be sure you can recognize the impact and signs of stress in your workers.

The effects of worker stress

Excess stress can be caused by personal problems or by work issues like cutbacks, lack of job satisfaction, or layoffs. But any source of stress can cause workers to lose focus – and that can increase safety incidents. Stressed workers may also be more likely to turn to harmful ways of coping like alcohol, illegal drugs, or improper uses of prescription medicine – any of which can contribute to higher incident rates.

The many costs of stress in the workplace

The personal concern you have for your workers and your responsibility to keep them safe is only part of the equation. The American Institute of Stress estimates that job stress costs U.S. industries over $300 billion each year as a result of:

  • Accidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Employee turnover
  • Diminished productivity
  • Direct medical, legal, and insurance costs
  • Workers' compensation claims as well as tort and FELA judgments

Signs of a stressed worker

Just as you check for safety compliance, be on the lookout for signs of stress. Stressed workers may: 

  • Seem overtired
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Complain a lot or have low morale
  • Seem anxious, argumentative, or irritable
  • Have frequent accidents

How to help stressed out workers

So what can you do if you have a worker checking some of these boxes? First, give them a chance to clear the air. Let them know your door is open and that you care. If the problem is work-related, ask them what they’d like to see change and try to help where you can. The solution to the problem might be something as simple as:

  • Allowing more frequent breaks
  • Redistributing responsibilities
  • Reprioritizing tasks so high-priority work gets finished first, leaving some room to breathe
  • Building in regular venting sessions for workers to air their thoughts and make suggestions

You might even consider adding a stressed worker to your safety committee. If they’re stressed because things could be done better, tap into that knowledge and use it to make your workplace more efficient! 

If the stress is caused by a personal problem, refer them to any counseling services your HR Department may provide. 

Above all, never ignore stress issues, even if they make you uncomfortable. Let workers know they have to work on stress management and that you’re there to help. Because better communication and less stress can keep everyone safer!