Memo to the Boss: 5 Ways You’re Stressing Us Out

Supervisor scolding his subordinate

By Kendal Patterson

From: Your Employees
Re: Workplace Stress

When economic times are shaky, we know that stress can seem like the cost of doing business. After all, you have to push for results or none of us has a job, right? But stress has been building lately and that not only hurts us, your employees, but the company’s bottom line too.

Stress puts the body on high alert – the pulse quickens, the muscles tense, the nervous system wakes up. It’s that fight or flight response. Short term, we can handle it. But if stress is unresolved, our bodies literally begin to wear out, opening the door to injury and illness. For the company, that means more sick days, more long-term disability, more possibility we’ll turn to substance abuse for relief, and more employees heading for the exits the moment a new job beckons.

We know it’s unrealistic to expect that stress can be completely eliminated, but we do know there are ways to minimize it – and that includes you doing your part. To be blunt: You’ve been stressing us out. Here are a few of the problem areas, along with some suggestions for change:

1. You’re working to fix our stress, but not its source.

We appreciated the workplace stress seminar. Really. It was great to learn about meditation techniques and the benefits of exercise and ways to maximize our time. But you forgot an important component: the workplace. That’s where our workplace stress comes from, after all.

What was missing in the seminar was some honest talk from all levels of the organization about how we do things here and whether we’ve created a culture that asks for too much while giving too little – whether guidance, time, flexibility, support or money.

By focusing only on us, you’re missing the root cause of our stress. Until both the workers and the workplace are addressed, long-term workplace stress reduction remains an illusion.

2. You’re communicating your own stress.

Stress is as contagious as a yawn and as dangerous as secondhand smoke. We need you to deal with yours so that it doesn’t spread among us. We’re not accusing you of running around like your hair’s on fire. People pick up on even subtle signs – foot tapping, a raised voice, sighs, a clenched jaw — whether you or even we realize it or not. It’s the way we’re wired; we absorb the emotions of others.

So don’t just tell yourself you’ll work on hiding your stress. The real solution is to minimize it through whatever means work best for you (relaxation techniques, exercise, more delegation, etc.). And be upfront with us when you are stressed about something. Otherwise, we are likely to worry we inspired it – and that’s stressful.

3. You’re not dealing with toxic workers.

We won’t name names, but you know who we’re talking about. And if you don’t, you should. This person is making the lives of multiple people miserable through behavior that ratchets up the stress while sinking morale. Rudeness, intrigues, backstabbing, gossip – it all takes its toll.

We get it; even for the boss, it’s not easy to confront someone, especially when personality is part of the issue, but toxic behavior can’t be allowed to continue poisoning the atmosphere. We know you value this person’s skillset, but we have value too. If nothing improves, it’s likely to be us or him.

4. You’re hovering.

Remember this formula: too much responsibility + too little control = workplace stress. We’re not stressed out when you hand us a big task, but we are stressed out when you micromanage us through it, denying us decision-making capability or flexibility. It’s a set-up for failure. It’s also a guarantee we won’t care as much about the outcome. It’s simply human nature. We are more invested in what is within our control.

So do yourself a favor and allow yourself to delegate more. Give us a challenge, give us the resources to do it and get out of the way. We just might dazzle you.

5. You’re only letting us know what we’re doing wrong.

We’re not looking for empty “attaboys” here. But what we do need is a sense that we are on the right track and heading in a direction that will further the company’s prospects and our own. Only hearing when we’ve missed the mark is demoralizing, especially if it comes with no constructive feedback. Hearing nothing is almost as bad. And, OK, we admit it; it is nice to get a “well done” when deserved. In fact, truth be told, there is no bigger motivator.

In Conclusion

So we hope you didn’t take this too personally. It’s not just your employees. A national survey found that the workplace is the number-one stressor for a quarter of the population. With your help, we don’t have to be part of that statistic. All we ask is that you try.

We remain (for now),

Your Employees

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