by Dale Collie
According to CNN-Money.com, Americans spent more
than $17 billion for anti-depressants and
anti-anxiety drugs in 2002, up 10% from the year
before and nearly 30% over a two year period.
The Institute for Management Excellence reports
that American industry spends more than $26
billion each year for medical bills and disability
payments with another $10 billion for executive's
lost workdays, hospitalization, and early death.
While these trends might be caused by some who are
simply intolerant to stressful situations, it
should also be recognized that properly managed
circumstances can reduce stress, maximize employee
productivity, and improve the living conditions of
Out of control stress also costs companies through
increased absenteeism, lack of enthusiasm for the
job, poor performance, and bad attitudes.
Improvements in each of these areas can bring
improved productivity and increased profits.
To find out what is most stressful to employees,
Bill Wilkerson, CEO of The Global Business and
Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental
Health, conducted a survey and reported the ten
As you'll see, all ten of these stress causing
situations are related to leadership
communications. The names Wilkerson gave each of
these causes are in quotation marks.
10. "The treadmill syndrome"
Employees who consistently have too much or too
little to do creates a lot of stress. Some
employees are highly stressed because they simply
have too many responsibilities. Others work around
the clock, not necessarily on the clock, but
throughout the day and at home. These are
generally the employees who have too much to do
and too many responsibilities.
Solution: You can control stress caused by the
treadmill syndrome by making sure work is evenly
divided and properly prioritized. Sometimes you
can save money by hiring additional employees and
reducing the additional costs of excessive stress.
9. "Random interruptions"
Interruptions keep employees from getting their
work done - telephones, walk-in visits,
Solution: You can control this type stress by
encouraging proper time management, delegation of
responsibilities, and clarification of
8. "Pervasive uncertainty" Uncertainty is created
by constant, unsatisfactorily explained or
Solution: Keeping everyone well informed can
reduce stress and improve productivity. Take time
to meet with people and put the details in a
written memo so they can review the facts after
the emotions cool down.
7. "Mistrust, unfairness, and office politics"
These situations keep everyone on edge and
uncertain about the future. Management of trust
and fairness is just as important as any other
management tool. If people cannot trust
management, performance goes down. And, everyone
is affected if even one employee is treated
Solution: You have to make sure everyone is
treated fairly - in fact and in perception. Word
spreads quickly, and everyone sympathizes with the
"victim," as they see it. They feel they will be
treated the same way.
Unfairness can also be seen in management's
acceptance of those who thrive on office politics.
Solution: Do not reward office politics in any
way. Verbally reprimand those who are negative
about others or those who spread rumors. If their
statement isn't uplifting, don't let them make the
comment about others.
If you fail to take action, morale goes down and
stress goes up.
6. "Unclear policies and no sense of direction"
Lack of focus causes additional uncertainty and
undermines confidence in management.
Solution: Clear communication of policies and
company goals is required, and it must go beyond
the management level.
Not all middle managers are good at communicating
these important subjects, so top management must
communicate in a such a way that everyone is clear
on where the company is going and what company
policies are enforced.
Use memos, articles, personal meetings, small
groups, announcements and anything else that
reinforces your policy. Repetition is important.
Actions consistent with policy are more important
as the words.
5. "Career and job ambiguity"
If people are uncertain about their jobs and
careers, there is a feeling of helplessness and of
being out of control. This goes beyond the job
description and annual performance review.
Solution: People want to know that their job is
secure and know what is expected of them. Many
employees also want to know about career
progression and what they must do to advance.
Keep people informed of business situations,
threats, and obstacles that must be overcome.
They'll find out through the grape vine if you
don't tell them. There is no such thing as a
secret, so be right up front with everyone.
You don't want to be an alarmist, but these people
have families to take care of. Some of them are
applying for mortgages, loans, and other financial
commitments that they might not make if they are
as fully informed as you are.
4. "No feedback - good or bad."
People want to know how they are doing, and
whether they are meeting expectations. If you
don't communicate your thoughts on their
performance, they are stressed about how well they
Solution: Daily or weekly confirmation can help
reduce stress significantly. Managers who wait
until year end to explain job performance are
about 51 weeks too late.
3. "No appreciation."
Failure to show appreciation for employee
participation generates stress that endangers
Solution: Daily, weekly, and monthly appreciation
will help reduce stress and increase profits.
2. "Lack of communications" Poor communication up
and down the chain of command leads to decreased
performance and increased stress.
Solution: Just as it is important to keep people
advised of company policies and changes they can
expect, management needs to listen to employees.
Improved communications up the chain of command
can give people a chance to pass along ideas,
suggestions, and complaints, reducing stress and
helping achieve more.
1. The greatest stressor in the workplace is "lack
Employees are highly stressed when they feel like
they have no control over their participation or
the outcome of their work.
Solution: Savvy managers know the value of
employee suggestions, comments, and input on the
business as they participate. Very few managers
know as much about the individual jobs as those
doing the work day after day.
Stress control is a leadership responsibility.
Those who ignore prevailing stress levels are
negligent in their duties. Grasping the concepts
and reducing stress one step at a time can have an
amazing impact on the bottom line and on the lives
of those who do the heavy work.
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Copyright 2005 - Dale Collie
Dale Collie - Professional Speaker & former
US Army Ranger, CEO, and University Professor.
Advising business leaders on corporate stress
control, improving productivity, and increasing
profits. Author of "Winning Under Fire:
Turn Stress into Success the US Army