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How to manage employee stress at work

By Jamie Studenroth

February 17, 2021

Stress is a common problem for employees at work, especially during the pandemic. Unaddressed, it can lead to poor performance, absenteeism, and low morale. 

But when employees are showing signs of stress, there are often personal factors at play, like visible or invisible disabilities or other factors outside of work. It’s not always easy for employers to know how to provide the right support. Unfortunately, employees with disabilities often end up facing consequences when accommodations would be more appropriate.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to help employees who are showing signs of stress at work. These accommodations cost little or nothing. And employers can easily put them in place — without needing to know the details or cause of the stress. 

Disability inclusion can help with stress in the workplace

The first step is to build a strong culture of disability inclusion. That way, front-line managers will be empowered to handle employee stress when it comes up.

Recently, an employee from The Bazaar Inc., a member of Understood’s Inclusive Careers Cohort , was facing stressful life transitions outside of work. 

These changes were beginning to affect the employee’s routine. The employee became less focused on the job, was easily frustrated, and started to miss days at work. 

But thanks to a strong disability inclusion program , management at The Bazaar knew how to approach the situation. They recognized that the employee’s struggles might not be a performance issue. The team thought accommodations could help. So they set up a meeting with their Understood disability inclusion specialist to come up with a plan. 

First, human resources spoke with the employee to get a better understanding of what was going on. Then they worked together on an accommodations plan to help the employee manage stress. The supports they used were free and were centered around good communication. 

For example, the employee’s day would begin with a morning check-in. Based on how they were doing, the manager could adjust the employee’s schedule for the day, like break frequency or the order of tasks. The team also created visual reminders to help the employee stay focused. With these supports, the employee felt more confident to advocate for their own needs, which improved communication all around.

Communication is the key to managing employee stress

Stress can ebb and flow — so building these communication channels is critical. Employers who’ve fostered good communication will be ready when employees face new stress at work.

The accommodations above helped the employee get back on track, but one day their stress was particularly high. When the employee arrived at work, they seemed agitated and upset. During the morning check-in, the manager could tell the employee was having a hard time. 

Rather than jumping to discipline or ignoring the problem, the team talked and decided to send the employee home early. Strong communication lines between the individual and the team helped them to find the best solution for everyone. 

In this scenario, good communication wasn’t expensive or complicated. But it was an effective solution. Proactive communication decreased employee frustration and improved the relationship with their supervisor, leading to better overall outcomes for everyone.

Because the leadership at The Bazaar had spent the time to develop a culture of disability inclusion, the management team knew they needed to help the employee manage stress in the most productive way possible.

Inclusive companies acknowledge that employees have lives outside the workplace. And a culture of disability inclusion can help managers learn communication skills to better support their teams. That way, when stress inevitably pops up at work, they’ll know how to address it in the simplest and most effective way.

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