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5 ways to tell if your employees are stressed (and 3 things to do if they are)

by Kelton Wright

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Are your employees happy? Not just the ones in your vicinity, but all of them? Are they stressed? Are you stressed? Stress can not only knock out our motivation, but also our immune systems and our loyalty. But how can you tell if employees are happy? It can be challenging (and frankly, stress-inducing) to ask a direct report if they’re happy, so here are a few ways to read the room at your office:

1. Is there laughter?

Not everyone wants to chat casually with the boss, but look around to see if they chat casually with each other. Is there laughter in the office? Do people linger in common spaces? Do people eat lunch together? This type of social behavior can indicate a sense of belonging, and a level of comfort in the workplace. Simply put, it means people are friends, and friendship in the office leads to better discussions, shared ideas, and happier people. If this team dynamic is missing, it could mean your employees are struggling to the point that they can’t connect with their colleagues.

2. Is productivity falling?

Happiness has been shown to directly affect productivity. A recent study shows that happy employees are 12% more productive. The research team said, “Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.” It seems obvious when you put it like that — an energized person does better work, and good feelings energize us. When productivity is down, we can often miscategorize certain employees as inefficient or lazy, but it may be a broader symptom of stress and unhappiness across the organization.

3. Is the turnover rate increasing?

This one might seem obvious, but it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s also worth tracking who is leaving. Is one department experiencing a significant share of the turnover? Is there a higher turnover in a particular demographic? Investigating your turnover rate could be one key to solving some workplace dissatisfaction.

If your team is calling in sick more and more, it could be a sign the organization itself is under the weather.

4. Is attendance low?

An increase in sick days could indicate something more long-lasting than flu season. The Mayo Clinic acknowledges stress’s role in a wide swath of health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Stress can disrupt sleep, cause gastrointestinal issues, increase headaches and more. If your team is calling in sick more and more, it could be a sign the organization itself is under the weather.

5. What are people saying?

It may seem like Glassdoor reviews are the reports of disgruntled former employees only, but there’s often truth to glean, even when the review is angry. All feedback gives us a chance to step back and review our strategies holistically. It’s also important to take advantage of exit interviews. Give employees a chance to give honest feedback that could help the company improve. Employees may be afraid to burn bridges by giving critical feedback, so make it clear that all feedback is welcome and you’re looking to learn and grow.  

If it sounds like your workforce might be a little more stressed than you’d previously thought, there are a few quick steps you can take.

1. Ask them how they’re feeling.

Depending on your company culture, it may be difficult to get honest feedback one-on-one. No one wants to appear like they aren’t up to the challenge. So instead of putting the pressure on face to face, implement a wellness and stress survey. This will allow you to get a read on stress at one point-in-time so you can send the same survey at a later date to compare results. At Headspace, we sent a quarterly survey that assessed happiness at work, and it provided detailed results on an anonymous individual basis, but also how separate teams’ happiness compared to one another. Employees were able to review their own results as well to see how their stress tracked over time. Your initial survey could be much simpler and still give a voice to a workforce that may be needing one.

2. Implement a gratitude program.

If you don’t already use gratitude in the workplace, it might be time to start. A recent Glassdoor survey found that 53% of employees would stay at their company longer if they felt more appreciation from their boss. The survey also showed that 81% would work harder if their boss showed that their work was appreciated. While this is one survey, research continues to suggest that gratitude makes us feel better. A gratitude program could be as simple as encouraging managers to send ‘thank you’ emails for stand-out performances once a week. You could also use a service like Bonusly that encourages employees to express gratitude toward each other in the form of points that allows those employees to cash in on rewards like gift cards to grocery stores and airlines.

3. Introduce mindfulness.

Meditation has been shown over and over to reduce stress. Offering your employees a mindfulness program could help mitigate stress issues before they start to affect your employees’ health, productivity, and overall happiness. There are many ways to do this. At Headspace, we reserve a conference room at 3 p.m. every day for 25 minutes where employees can meditate. Every employee’s calendar is also blocked off at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for optional meditation sessions. In one study, just ten days of Headspace resulted in an 11% decrease in stress.

If you’re interested in implementing a mindfulness program at your workplace, learn more at headspace.com/work.

Kelton Wright

Kelton Wright is the Director of Editorial of the Orange Dot, as well as the author of "Anonymous Asked: Life Lessons from the Internet’s Big Sister". She can be seen riding her bike more often than not.

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