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Work stress and its impact on organizations

Updated: Nov 3, 2023


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Stress management is a core personal and professional skill… and with good reason.


Whether we like it or not, stress is inevitable. It’s here to stay. We are not going to wake up one day and find that our lives are miraculously less stressful. Life isn’t going to stop being busy.


Does this mean that stress management is pointless? No. This just means that the purpose of stress management may be different than what you think it is. Given the inevitability of stress, the purpose of stress management is not to avoid stress. That would be an exercise in futility.

Stress management is instead about engaging in healthy and productive ways to think about and process stress.

It’s about recognizing when there is too much stress pent up in our body and then taking steps to release some of it. It’s about learning from the stress we experience. Most importantly, it’s about getting back to feeling good. I believe that, while stress is inevitable, feeling the way we feel when we experience too much stress does not have to be.


We have to accept that stress is part of life, but we do not have to accept that experiencing stress means we have to feel dreadful.

True stress management comes from within. We get to choose when we want to get back to feeling good and how we go about doing that.

Ineffective stress management can take a significant personal toll on our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. A lack of proper stress management skills can negatively impact our productivity, happiness, decision-making skills, creativity, relationships, communication skills, among many other things.

Notwithstanding the impact on individuals, the onus for facilitating effective stress management does not lie solely with individuals.

Organizations also stand to lose a lot when their people do not have the necessary skills and tools to capably manage stress. Countless studies have revealed that employees suffering from unbridled stress can negatively affect organizations, too. The impact of work stress on organizations can be far-reaching and take many forms, such as:

  • Reduced employee productivity: 71% of workers say their mental health interferes with their ability to do their job.[1]

  • Decreased employee focus: 51% of Canadian workers report having difficulty focusing at work, due to stress. [2]

  • Increased employee turnover: There is a strong correlation between high levels of stress and employee turnover.[3]

  • Increased absenteeism and presenteeism: There is also a strong correlation between high levels of stress and both absenteeism and presenteeism. (Presenteeism refers to employees being physically present at work but not fully engaged. They are “there” but not “there”. It has been found that overly stressed employees are present but not productive for an average of 6.6 hours per week.) [4]

That’s just a sample of the impact on organizations but the results certainly point to it making good business sense for organizations to support their employees in adopting better strategies for dealing with stress. (Unchecked stress costs Canadian employers billions of dollars annually.)

I also believe that it is the right thing to do. I think it is difficult to make the case that an organization genuinely cares about the well-being of its people, when its roster of employee support mechanisms does not include resources to help them get better at managing stress.

This should not be an exercise in checking a proverbial box. The types of supports made available to employees matter.

In my own interactions with individuals, they often bemoan the fact that their organizations provide a disproportionate number of self-serve resources… resources that employees may not even be aware exist. While a certain level of on-demand, self-serve educational support is appreciated, it would be a mistake to have this make up the entirety of the help provided because employees simply do not have the capacity to get to them.

Consider this scenario. An employee is stressed out. They may be overwhelmed by a combination of personal and professional obligations and struggling with a seemingly insurmountable to-do list. If they are aware of a library of self-serve stress management resources where they work, they may wish to review them but, given their current lack of time or mental bandwidth, will add finding, downloading and reading them to their to-do list. So, in the interim, those employer-provided supports are viewed as just something else to do, which can lead to more overwhelm. In my experience, reviewing self-serve supports often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list and will rarely ever get done, given that it is not directly associated with performance. This may in turn lead to feelings of guilt and shame in employees. They know that they can make use of resources to help them manage better but they have trouble making the time for it. They end up feeling worse, all while missing out on opportunities to learn how to effectively manage all this stress.

It's a vicious circle. Yes, individuals need to own managing their stress and the development of their stress management skills… but, to do that, they need to understand that feeling good is possible and be familiar with practical ways to go about it.

This is why facilitated training can be so helpful. In her book, “The Upside of Stress”, Dr. Kelly McGonigal explains that even brief training sessions can enable employees to shift their mindsets regarding stress and empower them to take charge of their well-being.[5]

In conclusion, yes, stress management is a personal skill and responsibility but it’s also a corporate accountability. To truly help, organizations need to provide resources to their people in ways that will give them the most immediate and relevant support.

I love going into organizations to help employees discover very simple ways to start managing their stress. The Balanced Banker – my stress management presentation series for financial services professionals – is packed with powerful insights, techniques, and examples and is engaging and relatable. In all my sessions, I share knowledge in simple yet effective ways, using storytelling and humour. Throughout the presentation series, I cover multiple aspects of stress management, including thoughts, mindsets, feelings, mindfulness, sleep, self-care, planning, and time management. Reach out to set up a discovery call to learn more about my facilitated stress management services or visit The Balanced Banker webpage.


Thank you for reading!


Stephanie

LORA Concepts Inc.

workplace engagement & well-being




p.s. The information, insight, and advice I share through my work is meant to exist alongside whatever else you may be doing to bolster your mental health, manage stress, or improve your well-being. Nothing I share is meant to replace directives or treatment plans provided by your doctor, therapist, or other healthcare professional.



[1] Source: Manulife, “Stress, finances, and well-being”, 2023.

[2] Source: Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 2016,

[3] Source: Morneau Shepell, “Morneau Shepell finds strong correlation between workplace stress and employee retention”, 2018.

[4] Source: Morneau Shepell, “The true picture of workplace absenteeism”, 2015.

[5] Source: The Upside of Stress, by Dr. Kelly McGonigal (2015)

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