Stress is not a new topic, but its impact is often underestimated. Based on research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health along with the American Psychological Association, the answer to the title question is “yes.” More specifically, these organizations found:
- Stress on the job costs the U.S. economy $500 billion on an annual basis
- 550,000,000 workdays are lost each year due to stress
- 60-80% of industrial accidents are tied to stress
- 40% of employee turnover in U.S. companies is associated with stress
- 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related issues
Considering that many leaders and employees experience stress resulting from work-related issues (e.g., tight deadlines, reorganizations, etc.), the impact of stress should be a topic of interest. At the individual level, poorly managed stress can contribute to a variety of negative health consequences including anxiety, exhaustion, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression. As the preceding statistics point out, stress is not just a personal concern for employees and the leaders who manage them. It is also business concern that impacts the bottom line.
There are two forms of stress that deserve the attention of companies, leaders and employees. The first form is time-related stress which entails having too much to accomplish in a given period. This is the most common form of stress faced by leaders. Essentially, the workload is perceived to be excessive and results in feeling a lack of control over the amount of time and tasks.
The second form is interaction-related stress which involves interpersonal situations. This form causes more burnout than most other forms of stress, and it has a negative impact on productivity and satisfaction. It typically can be recognized as organizational roles being incompatible, disagreement about how to address a dilemma or individual personality clashes.
Managing stress may sound like a simple platitude, but it is worth putting forth the effort to make it happen. For example, time-related stress can be managed by focusing on important activities (e.g., a customer issue or career development opportunity) that result in desired outcomes instead of urgent activities that are perceived to need immediate attention (e.g., an email, a ringing phone or an unexpected interruption). Developing personal criteria to help determine what is truly important is integral to this strategy.
Furthermore, decreasing the amount of wasted time can lead to accomplishing more tasks and reducing stress levels. This could be accomplished by picking a typical week and recording in a simple spreadsheet how each hour of the day is spent in order to highlight inefficiencies in time use.
Interaction-related stress can be reduced by an individual enhancing his ability to recognize his own emotions and stress levels as well as those of others and then being able to control them. A national survey by a life insurance company found that employees with managers who were more interpersonally effective showed lower stress levels, less burnout, fewer stress-related incidents, higher productivity and more commitment to the organization than employees who had managers who lacked interpersonal competence. Succinctly stated, leaders and employees who have developed more emotional intelligence tend to be more collaborative, encounter fewer conflicts (or at least are better able to handle them) and experience less stress.