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How to Manage Workplace Stress

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Stephanie Davis

Blocks with different emotions on them.

Stress. It's one word that everybody relates to differently.

Having enough money for bills, chronic illnesses, and major life changes are often some of the most reported causes of stress. Another significant source of stress is work. According to reports featured on the American Institute of Stress website, 80% of people feel stress on the job. From intense workloads to coworker conflicts, leadership struggles, and more, job stress affects everyone in some type of way. As a small business owner, you likely have your own stress that you need to juggle at work, on top of checking in on your employees. To better manage stress in the workplace, and some helpful tools to cope, keep reading.

What Are The Top Sources of Workplace Stress?

The tricky think about stress is that each person is affected by stressors differently, and they have different ways of coping with stressful situations. Because of that, it can be challenging to pinpoint what exactly needs to change in the workplace. According to the American Psychological Association, the most common sources of work stress are:

  • Low salaries.
  • Excessive workloads.
  • Few opportunities for growth or advancement.
  • Work that isn't engaging or challenging.
  • Lack of social support.
  • Not having enough control over job-related decisions.
  • Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.

Other common related stressors include long commutes, poor work/life balance, and job security.

How to Help Employees Manage Stress

Now that you know what the top stressors are for employees, you can take some steps to provide a less stressful work environment and show your employees you care about their wellbeing. 

  • Provide clear job descriptions. As a small business owner, there's a chance you're working with a smaller staff, and at times it may turn into all hands on deck. While it's important to have employees who can wear many hats, it can be stressful for them to have unclear role and responsibilities. When hiring employees, have a clear job description and ask if the person would be able to jump around and help in other areas if needed. You want them to have a clear role, but also set the expectation that you may need some help.
  • Check your management style. It's no secret that employees do not want to be micro-managed and like to have some control over what they do. While some employees may need some more guidance than others, it's still important that you're giving them space to make decisions and do their work as they see fit.
  • Consider flexible work environments. While this may not apply to every small business, if yours can offer telecommuting opportunities, it's worth considering. Working from home has been on the rise lately, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies had to switch their models and have employees work from home. Having a balance between a few days in an office and a few days at home may be great for some of your employees. If you can't offer work from home, you might be able to consider flexible hours and letting employees choose their start and end times on what works best for their personal schedules. That flexibility can really improve work/life balance and decrease stress.
  • Offer employee benefits. From health insurance to 401(k) options, offering various employee benefits can remove the stress that employees face in those areas. A 401(k) option lets your employees save for the future, and health insurance is a benefit that many struggle with.
  • Encourage breaks and time off. It's easy for people to get in the flow of working all the time, especially when to-do lists seem neverending. Those high workloads can eventually lead to exhaustion and burnout. Throughout the day, encourage your employees to take breaks. Remind them that it's ok to take a lunch break away from their computers, go for a walk, or just take time to socialize with each other. Having a paid time off policy in place is also extremely helpful to prevent burnout. Each year there are studies about people not taking full time off. As an example, CNN reported that an estimated 768 million vacation days went unused in the U.S. in 2018. If you have a paid time off policy in place, remind your employees to take a day off from work when they need it. And when they are off, it's important that you and your other employees respect that and don't send emails or messages about work on paid days off.

Stress Management Tips

While the tips above can help with the workplace, it's also helpful to have a toolbox of tips to help manage stress. Even if you implemented everything above in your small business, stressful situations would still arise. So how can you and your team manage stress better in the moment?

    • Breathe. We know this is a cliché tip on every stress management article, but taking a minute to focus on some deep breaths can have a positive impact on stress levels. Whether you use the built-in feature on an Apple watch, watching the clock, or use the guidance of meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, hitting the pause button and focusing on your breathing can lower stress levels and put you in a better mindset.
    • Move your body. Yes, exercise is good for your physical health, but it’s just as important for your mental health and reducing stress. Even taking a 5 minute break to walk around, do some jumping jacks, or squats can be enough to halt your stressed out thoughts. If you ever need a reminder on why endorphins are important, just think of Elle Woods: 


  • Make lists. Lists can be extremely helpful when it comes to managing stress. Sometimes when thoughts get out of hand, it can feel like you’re going in circles and have so much going on. Putting your pen to paper and getting thoughts of your mind and into a to-do list can help reign in your thoughts and help you focus on your action items. Seeing it written down can usually make you see it’s not as much as you believed. Additionally, for larger worries, many find it helpful to write down what you can and can’t control. For the things you can control, you can make an action plan, but for the things you can’t, you need to let those thoughts, and stress around them, go.

Bottom Line

Learning how to manage workplace stress goes a long way in employee engagement and retention. Stressful situations are always going to arise, but understanding the top sources of stress for employees, and offering tools and solutions to help will go along with morale. Most importantly, remember that you’re a team and together can handle any stresses that come your way. 

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