Every worker is unique with an individual disposition, background, set of beliefs and expectations. So stress at work will vary from person to person. A few factors that pop up consistently across sectors however are work overload, lack of autonomy, hectic shift hours, weak or ineffective management, discrimination, bullying and harassment.

While a certain level of stress is normal, even desirable in a workplace, excessive levels are counterproductive, creating a toxic environment. There are steps that managers can take to avoid this and encourage harmony and wellbeing. A warm, dynamic vibe in the office boosts employee satisfaction and bolsters productivity and performance. Underlying dissatisfaction and resentment disrupts work by preying on the minds of workers and leaving them feeling drained, distracted and even hostile.

Safe Work Australia studies report an overwhelming 92% of Australian workers admit to experiencing mental health problems due to workplace stress. Paradoxically, although there have been significant increases in technology, salaries and perks, there has been a corresponding increase in workplace stress. First there is a general fear around the economy resulting in growing job insecurity. Under that gloomy cloud organisations are expecting workers to work longer hours with tighter deadlines and tackle heavier workloads. With rapidly improving technologies employees are frequently obliged to learn how to operate new equipment and software with an often unrelenting learning curve. There is little time or peace of mind to enjoy higher pay packets intended to compensate for this increased stress and anxiety. It is therefore no surprise that it is close to impossible to find fulfilment at work.

Managers can help improve the situation by conducting what is known as a ‘social audit’. During a social audit, managers speak informally with employees to find out if they are happy. Discussion can cover any negative experiences such as workload or workplace relationships. Managers who guarantee confidentiality and respect will inspire trust and much more effectively identify concerns and problems. One-to-one, direct conversations are the most likely to provide clear insights regarding employee satisfaction and wellbeing.

Some organisations use surveys (where confidentiality is guaranteed) to gather this information. However, research shows that most workers consider these ineffective because many managers are not aware of how to properly analyse the information for better outcomes. Workplace problems may not always be the reason for stress at work but a manager is in an empowered position to provide some help to the employee(s) in question.

Without intervention, elusive issues such as negative vibes, subtle intimidation, veiled harassment, social isolation and envy have a direct impact on employee health and performance. Eventually, such problems are likely to erode productivity and adversely impact the bottom-line. A stress-ridden, toxic workplace will inevitably result in increased employee absenteeism and sick leave.

According to a report on satisfaction at work in Australia (from Curtin University, authored by Rebecca Cassells), roughly 12 billion Australians, over their lifetime, will spend at least 100,000 hours working in an office. Since we spend an overwhelming portion of our lives at work, workplace satisfaction is intrinsically linked to life satisfaction. Taking proactive steps to ensure employee wellbeing helps boost their overall fulfilment levels.

Remedial steps could include physical changes in the office environment (better lighting or ventilation), increased comfort levels or reduction of work load. You may also need to examine other causes that may contribute to the negative vibe.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get to the root of an issue. Employees may not be willing to speak honestly to managers or co-workers may bias thinking and judgement. There could also be extraneous factors (like mood on the day, attitudes or presumptions of the process) that affect the outcome of the situation. An experienced consultant will be aware of these complications and skilled at managing them to analyse employee input and provide targeted resolution strategies.

At ESN, we are pleased to offer our extensive people skills to resolve organisational problems. Our experienced consultants will be happy to examine the issues and recommend solutions. You can rely on our discretion in discussing issues of a sensitive nature. Please feel free to contact us regarding our array of HR Consulting services.