6 Ways to Help Workers Reduce Stress During Difficult Times

Difficult times at work, at home, or even in society at large can cause workers to struggle to cope with feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability, stress, and a sense of being overwhelmed. Workers’ difficulties in coping with stressful circumstances can lead to serious consequences for employees and your portable restroom rental or septic services business.
Experiencing relatively brief periods of high stress typically does not cause lasting negative effects on people. However, when exposed to extremely stressful circumstances is prolonged, it can eventually negatively impact mental and physical health. It’s a problem that also often becomes extremely costly for employers of over-stressed workers, causing losses of income and increases in healthcare costs, among other serious outcomes.
Below is a list of ways employers can create working conditions that are more conducive to lower stress for workers and help them manage their stress levels.

Causes of Difficulty and Resulting Kinds of Stress

First, it’s important to know the difference between the kinds of stress people experience and then focus on ways to help alleviate the most severe form of stress for workers at your company.
There are two primary classes of stress causes that people can find themselves trying to cope with in the workplace:
• Brief but intense events or issues can cause brief stress, known as acute stress. For example, being in a minor auto accident, or struggling briefly to adopt a new procedure at work can cause briefly high stress. Acute stress comes and goes and usually does not cause serious consequences to an employee’s well-being or job performance.
• Difficult conditions can cause prolonged stress, known as chronic stress. For example, a troublesome relationship at home, or coping with the current global health and economic crisis can cause prolonged high stress. Continued extreme stress caused by long-term difficult circumstances at home or work can lead to potentially serious health impacts and poor job performance.
Employee Risks of Health Impacts from Coping Difficulties
Research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that a high percentage of U.S. American workers assess their workplaces as very stressful or extremely stressful. (See the link to the CDC publication in Additional Resources, below.)
Living and working under highly-stressful conditions over time can cause many health effects, such as:
• Fatigue
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Diabetes • Cancer
• Obesity
• Cardiovascular disease • Weakened immune system
• Suicide
• Numerous others

Employer’s Risk of Losses from Employees’ Coping Difficulties

Consequences of workers’ concentration, morale, energy levels, and other functional changes in their mental and physical condition can result in major losses for portable restroom rental and septic services businesses. More broadly, employees’ difficulties in coping with stressful circumstances cost U.S. businesses an average of over $300 billion per year.
Therefore, it makes sense for employers to take measures to make their workplaces less stressful places for employees and help employees who may find themselves struggling to cope with difficult and stressful circumstances over prolonged periods.
Taking prompt action to help mitigate difficult situations for people at work can help businesses avoid the serious consequences of not addressing their employees’ needs when they appear to be coping with prolonged extreme stress.

Some of those consequences to businesses can include:
• High absenteeism
• High employee attrition rates
• Reduced productivity
• Poor product and service quality
• Decreased customer satisfaction
• Increased employee healthcare costs
• Increased customer dissatisfaction rates
• Damaged business reputation
• Reduced profits
• Other impacts that can threaten the business

How to Help Employees Manage Through Difficult Periods

Here are some ways employers can help workers cope better through difficult personal and occupational challenges:

1. Monitor for Excessive Stress Levels in Your Workplace.

As in many, if not most, other industries, entrepreneurs in the portable restroom rental or septic services, and others in the wastewater management industry are focused full-time on growing a successful business. Business owners often work at a fast pace for very long hours, with little sleep and no relief in sight during the first several months to years of operations. In such circumstances, the issue of employees’ difficulties coping with stressful circumstances of their own may be overlooked.
The priority in managing stress in your workplace is to make sure you are mindfully staying aware of stress levels indicated by your team members, and in yourself:
• Encourage employees to maintain an open dialogue with management about any concerns that have the potential to impact their wellbeing or their job performance.
• Ask workers for feedback about their employee experience working for your company.
• Suggest available resources that can enable them to manage personal or occupational issues.

2. Be Supportive of Employees’ Changing Needs.

It’s natural to settle into work routines, and it can seem too difficult to accommodate the unexpected needs of employees that often arise. So, build flexibility for dealing with such inevitabilities into your operations model. Position your operations to enable yourself and your team to react with agility to virtually any oncoming surprise changes in any individual staff member’s ability to perform in their roles optimally.
Employers can do much to alleviate the sense of anxiety and uncertainty that escalates pressures on people during difficult times. For example, allowing employees to switch to more engaging or less demanding tasks, or encouraging time off for managing personal challenges, along with other applicable strategies can help preserve performance, motivation, and engagement, and minimize turnover during periods of individual or group difficulties.

3. Improve the Physical Work Environment.

Provide a work environment that is conducive to positive attitudes. An unappealing workplace is a difficulty in and of itself for many people to cope with. Creating a more pleasant workplace can do much to help employees feel good about their jobs and their lives in general.
If you cannot make a transformational set of changes all at once, pick one or two modifications from the list below, or other ideas you may have, and implement positive changes to make your work environment more pleasant. For example, a messy, dysfunctional work environment is a stressor.
So, first, fix frustrating, anxiety-causing problems such as cluttered, disorganized individual workspaces, and common areas of your facilities. Conduct a 5S project to clean up and organize your workplace, and repair anything that’s broken or poorly-working in your facilities. Include these tasks:
• Clean, declutter, and organize all workspaces and facilities
• Repair or replace equipment and tools that workers need to succeed
• Designate a private and quiet space for complex work
• Minimize noise levels
• Provide a comfortable, well-stocked space for breaks
• Organize digital filing systems
• Improve aesthetics with fresh paint, and furniture replacements, as feasible

4. Guide Employees to Self-Care Options During Difficult Times.

The human body generates stress hormones in response to upsetting situations, and those hormone flows subside when individuals regain enough ability to manage the difficulty and come to sense they can resolve or sufficiently manage the problem. Employers can help workers mitigate prolonged difficulties in a variety of ways:
• Implement stress-relieving diversions at work, like walks around the campus, stretch breaks, or other bits of down-time activity for decompressing.
• Provide training and/or coaching on organization, time-management, and prioritization.
• Strongly encourage people to take healthy amounts of time off to rest, rejuvenate, and prevent burn-out.
• Allow alternative work arrangements, if feasible, such as working from home one or two days per week, flex scheduling, etc.
• Direct workers who are experiencing ongoing high-stress circumstances to professional stress management or treatment resources.

5. Evaluate Your Expectations of Workers.

Attempting to meet excessive requirements or unrealistic expectations at work is an extreme and unnecessary source of stress for workers at bad workplaces. Check your expectations, to ensure that they are appropriate. Define your personal and business values, to be sure that they are reflected in your regard for the value of employees.
Modify your team management approach as necessary to align with your employees’ actual capabilities, and adjust your requirements appropriately. Setting realistic goals is fundamental to avoiding losses from the consequences of over-work and over-stress that results from forcing people to struggle overtime to meet excessive demands. Imposing excessive expectations on workers forces them to struggle to cope with that working condition and leads to:
• Frustration and sense of defeat
• Disengagement from job role and company
• Loss of confidence
• Increased friction between team members
• Diminished morale
• Sense of job insecurity
• Lack of trust or loyalty for the company
• Strong motivation to change employers

6. Model Self-Management of Stress During Difficult Periods.

Setting an example your employees can emulate helps workers demonstrate how professionals can rise to overcome personal and workplace challenges. The Harvard Business Review offers business managers a good discussion of self-discipline in the workplace. (See the Additional Resources below, for a link to the HBR article.)
Strive to exemplify the ability to maintain a positive outlook and practice self-management, by modeling these leadership-worthy personal stress management behaviors, among others:
• Take time off routinely. Sufficient downtime is essential to maintaining strong productivity consistently over time and avoiding burnout.
• Avoid displaying extreme anger or other strong negative emotions at work. Remember that your employees look to you as their leader for appropriate behavioral cues.
• Demonstrate healthy habits that help maintain mental and physical health and thereby strengthen the body’s and the mind’s coping abilities.

Do Something.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to resolving the countless possible compounds of problems that diverse employees and employer businesses face throughout the portable restroom and septic industries, or elsewhere in the national business sector these days. However, in any scenario case, inattention by management to too many key people working with prolonged circumstances of struggling to endure high-stress levels can be expected to lead to unfortunate outcomes in wasted opportunity, lost talent, and disintegrated teams.
Those operational losses, of course, translate into lost productivity, poor quality, customer dissatisfaction, and declining bottom-line business performance. In extraordinary times, such as the prolonged illness of a family member, or the current quarantine and months of its national economic impact, many employees can be expected to be coping with significantly increased challenges. So, in the interests of your business and your workers, be aware of individuals’ needs during continuing difficulties, and treat those as a top business concern.

Additional Resources

Your portable restroom rental company or septic services business may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of your employee health benefits program. If so, recommend that employees who are having difficulties coping with ongoing challenges or experiencing prolonged stress, whether due to causes internal or external to the workplace, schedule a visit with an EAP professional or their family physician for guidance.
For more general information about how to help employees maintain personal balance during challenging times at home or work, try these recommended sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/default.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5081153/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
https://hbr.org/2017/06/leadership-takes-self-control-heres-what-we-know-about-it
https://businesscollective.com/7-things-great-managers-do-to-support-their-employees/index.html

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