You don’t have to settle for stress-induced heartburn and migraines just because you’re running your own business. Entrepreneurs can do plenty to ease the pressure on themselves and their employees, says David Ballard, director of the Center for Organizational Excellence for the American Psychological Association (APA).
In fact, decreasing stress in your company can have a direct effect on your bottom line: Less-stressed owners and employees are often more productive and creative, become better problem-solvers, and take fewer sick days than frazzled workers, Ballard says.
Here are the top five causes of employee stress, according to a 2014 APA Work and Well-Being Survey, as well as tips for combating them.
Clearly, being financially strapped can make it tough for your employees to meet their financial obligations. Workers who feel they’re underpaid compared with their peers may also feel that you don’t value them as much as you could, says Ballard, and that can cause anxiety.
“This can be a tough stress factor to counter directly,” says Ballard. “As a small business, you have some legitimate constraints on how much you can afford to pay workers.”
If you’ve done all you can monetarily, you may need to focus on making your small business attractive to (and less stressful for) your workers in other ways: Can you spring for a group lunch once a month? Allow workers to bring pets to work certain days? Anything you can do to show employees you value them can help decrease their work stress, says Ballard.
Most workers actually aren’t looking for cushy jobs they can do in their sleep. They want to learn, grow and prepare themselves for future jobs, says Ballard. It can be very worthwhile to give them the training, mentoring and on-the-job experience they value.
Most workers actually aren’t looking for cushy jobs they can do in their sleep. Twitter Icon
For instance, does one of your workers want to learn more about web design and search engine optimization (SEO)? Consider springing for some training, then see if you can work some of those newfound skills into his job description. This can help your employee feel more satisfied in his job. That, in turn, means he may stay with you longer and do better work, notes Ballard.
And what about you? Are there any new skills you’d like to learn as a business owner that would help re-energize your work? Find a way to get to a conference or take an online class. It’s a worthwhile investment, Ballard says.
“Workers can feel stressed if they’re unsure about exactly what you expect of them or don’t know how to prioritize the many different pieces of their jobs,” Ballard notes. The answer: “Communicate, communicate, communicate,” says Ballard. Tell your employees how you define “success” in each of their job roles. Ask them regularly whether any tasks are unclear or unfamiliar to them. Tighten up individual job descriptions if they’ve started to blur over time.
Do your employees regularly come to work wondering if you’re going to announce a surprise layoff? Do they ask nervous questions when business is slow? The constant fear that their job is going to disappear can wreak havoc on your workers’ nervous systems.
The best antidote: Be open and transparent about how your business is doing and what you’re planning, suggests Ballard. “Some of the most successful companies survived the recession by pulling together to get through tough times,” he says. “Employees came up with creative ideas that their bosses never considered, and they were able to avoid layoffs.”
This can be a big challenge for small businesses. However, if you notice yourself getting into this habit — or if you see that some of your workers are burning the candle at both ends — pay attention.
Even high-energy employees can eventually burn out or get sick from the stress of overworking, notes Ballard. Brainstorm ways to cut workloads by delegating work to other employees or vendors, or eliminating unnecessary or unprofitable tasks. And make vacations a priority. Regular breaks can help keep workers healthier, less stressed and ultimately more productive.