In 2014, 60% of employed Americans surveyed reported that work was a significant source of stress in their lives, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. Many health and medical authorities agree that sustained stress has long-term impacts on worker productivity, job satisfaction, and health. Stress can also lead to costly mistakes, accidents and injuries, while stressed workers are more likely to miss work or quit a job.
Stress in the workplace is usually caused by multiple factors. These are a few of the most common:
• Poor lighting. Lights that are too dim or too glaring, or not directed properly to work areas, can lead to eyestrain and headaches, especially for workers with visually demanding tasks, and older workers, who need more light to see detail.
• Noisy environment. Noise is a proven stressor whether it’s caused by machinery, traffic nearby, or just the disturbance of common workplace sounds like telephones, office equipment, or conversations. A Cornell University study showed that noise also affects worker concentration.
• Uncomfortable or broken workstation furniture. Furniture that isn’t ergonomic for the individual, or that doesn’t function properly, can lead to stress and fatigue, muscle soreness, and repetitive strain injuries.
• Poor air quality. Indoor and outdoor pollutants such as chemicals, smoke, unpleasant smells, or mold in the air ducts, can cause allergies, headaches and asthma, and can have long-term health impacts.
• Overcrowded work space. Sharing work areas or having workstations crowded too closely together often increases interpersonal stress and conflict.
• Long, difficult, or crowded commutes. Starting and ending every day with a long commute through heavy traffic, or rushing to catch trains and buses is a serious quality of life issue for many workers.
• Uncomfortable climate conditions. Excessive heat, cold, dryness or humidity in the workplace can all add to workers’ discomfort and stress.
• Clutter and disorganization. Clutter reduces efficiency by wasting workers’ time as they try to find what they need amid the disorganization.
• Poor or dysfunctional interpersonal communications. Even the best physical environment can be ruined by conflict or tension among workers or between employees and supervisors.
While eliminating some of these stress factors may require major effort, others can often be addressed with some fairly simple changes. Whether you are the boss looking to make your whole company happier, healthier and more productive, or an employee who wants to improve your own conditions, try these steps:
Add natural elements
A work environment that incorporates features from the natural world has been shown to reduce stress. Natural lighting is a huge factor here. Windows are the best, but light fixtures that use glare free lighting and indirect lighting can also make a difference.
If adding furniture or redesigning work areas, consider incorporating elements of wood and stone and other natural materials, such as wood furniture rather than metal or plastic. Where changing the décor is not practical, studies have shown that adding live plants reduces worker tension, depression and fatigue. Plants also improve indoor air quality and even help reduce noise.
Manage the noise
If you share a large, busy workplace with other workers, it may be hard to manage this, but sometimes all you need is a closed door or a pair of noise dampening earphones to filter out distracting sounds. As an employer, you can manage the stress of noise. You can establish rules for music and conversation around the work areas; add sound absorbing materials; provide ear protection for workers who are exposed to loud machinery; and make sure your break room is a quiet refuge from the noisy work areas.
As an employee, you can keep your own work space meticulously organized to reduce visual and mental clutter. If you need equipment such as file trays to help you manage your work materials, ask your supervisor if you can get them and explain how it will help you work better. As an employer, you can set standards and procedures for organized paper flow, as well as good management of any products or inventory or other materials. The more organized your workplace is, the more productive it will be.
Establish excellent communications
While it would take several books to address all the management and psychological issues and strategies involved in workplace relationships, a key starting place is having clear and respectful communications. As an employee, if you are having persistent problems with one individual, and a respectful conversation with that individual doesn’t help, then it’s your job to seek help from a higher-up to resolve the problem. As an employer, you will want all your employees and supervisors to know how to talk and listen respectfully, and to establish processes for giving instructions, addressing problems, and resolving conflicts.
While some work-related stress is an inevitable part of life, you may be surprised at how much stress you can eliminate for yourself or your employees, once you identify and address its sources.
Rob Levine & Associates specializes in Personal Injury throughout Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as Social Security Disability and Veterans Disability throughout the country. As “The Heavy Hitter ®” Rob Levine not only works hard on your case, but also believes in making a positive impact in the communities he serves. Through internal resources, education and volunteerism, Rob Levine & Associates strives to help prevent accidents, as well as raise awareness around the needs of our elderly and returning veterans. For more information visit www.roblevine.com, or call 401.529.1222 or toll free 800-529-1222.