Stress: The Silent Workplace Killer

[h1]Disappointed builder or worker is thinking about problems.[/h1]

Earlier this month, Wrike, Inc., a project management application service provider based out of California, released results from its 2015 Work Management Survey Report. The annual survey of more than 1,400 workers covers critical topics such as job stress and productivity. More specifically, the report identified the top sources of workplace stress.

No matter what industry you’re in, workplace stress impacts more than just employee morale. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Exposure to stressful working conditions (called job stressors) can have a direct influence on worker safety and health.” In this article, we’re going to discuss the five most frequently cited stressors from the report and share how they may be impacting safety at your workplace today.

MISSING INFORMATION

“If you’ve got the time and the energy and the passion to work, but you’re being blocked by something else, it is very frustrating.”

—Andrew Filev, CEO and Founder, Wrike

Considering the short attention spans and gotta-have-it-now attitudes born from recent advancements in technology, it’s no surprise that missing information tops the list of workplace stressors. According to the report, 52% of the people surveyed reported incomplete or missing information as a cause of workplace stress.

In the realm of workplace safety, missing information can not only cause stress but accidents and injuries as well. Consider the recent case against a Texas stamping plant, where two workers suffered serious hand injuries, one of which was a finger amputation. Of the serious violations cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, two of them involved missing information: employees did not know how to properly shut down machinery during servicing and maintenance and they weren’t properly trained on how to use personal protective equipment, such as cut-resistant gloves. When an employee isn’t given all the details he or she needs to perform a task safely, filling in the blanks can have disastrous results.

PROBLEMS PRIORITIZING TASKS

“There is more and more work every day and it’s only going to get worse—or better—depending on what you do about it.”

—Andrew Filev, CEO and Founder, Wrike

Just behind missing information, 51% of survey respondents identified problems prioritizing tasks as a workplace stressor. Filev suggests the key to overcoming this stressor is to focus on and complete the most important task first, and then move on to the second most important.

This strategy works to prevent workplace injuries and accidents as well. By focusing on what’s most important first, workers are less likely to rush through menial tasks in order to make time for more significant ones. Furthermore, not switching back and forth between two or more tasks also helps reduce the likelihood of accidents and injuries.

UNREALISTIC GOALS

“Unrealistic goals for projects is often a result of insufficient or poor communication.”

—Andrew Filev, CEO and Founder, Wrike

Cited by 49% of survey respondents as a cause of stress in the workplace, setting unrealistic goals can have devastating effects on workplace safety. When workers are overwhelmed with how much they have to get done, they’re more likely to rush, lose focus, and slip up. Consider a truck driver forced to drive too many consecutive hours and running off the road or crashing into another vehicle as a result of fatigue or exhaustion.

Filev feels communication is the key to overcoming this stressor. So rather than having management set goals that are unattainable and stress inducing, encourage leadership to work with employees to better understand what they are capable of in a given timeframe.

MOVING DEADLINES

“The reality of life is business moves fast, markets move fast, technology moves fast so as we get more and more information you often have to change your decision.”

—Andrew Filev, CEO and Founder, Wrike

Nearly half of survey respondents—47%—cited moving deadlines as a cause of workplace stress. And why shouldn’t they? No one likes aiming at a moving target. While Filev suggests a “go with the flow” strategy for dealing with this stressor, we see this as a management issue.

If deadlines change, goals can quickly become unrealistic, putting unnecessary stress on workers and increasing the likelihood of injury. When deadlines tighten at your company, additional actions should be taken in order to compensate for the lost time—like bringing in part-time or temporary workers to help meet the new timeline or adding in more breaks to make longer shifts manageable.

UNCLEAR LEADERSHIP

“Communication is often the best solution for problems of ambiguity. If you are unclear about a specific task or an overall company goal, then schedule a time to talk with your boss in a respectful manner.”

—Andrew Filev, CEO and Founder, Wrike

We don’t think the 44% of survey respondents who cited unclear leadership as a stress factor in the workplace were thinking about workplace safety. But we certainly are. More and more we’re hearing about achieving safety excellence by creating a company-wide safety culture—which starts with leadership.

As a safety leader, you cannot say you’re invested in your workers’ safety, but refuse to buy top-performing personal protective equipment to prevent injuries. You can’t tell employees that safety is your primary priority, and then push them to take on more tasks than they can safely perform. Leadership must be clear on where it stands—and that should always be on the side of workplace safety.

Additional stressors rounding out the top 10 from the 2015 Work Management Survey Report were unclear task accountability, scope creep, lack of collaboration or coordination, team members not pulling their weight, and uncertainty around job roles. As stated earlier, stress of any kind is detrimental to workplace safety, and there’s no single solution that will address all stressors. The key is to keep lines of communication with your workers open so you’re always aware of their levels and causes of stress. The good news is when you find ways to reduce employee stress levels, you’ll find your workplace accidents and injuries decreasing as well.

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