How to Reduce Workplace Stress and Boost Employee Engagement


It’s what makes people almost 3X as likely to leave their jobs. It costs the U.S. more than $300 billion a year due to absenteeism, turnover, and reduced productivity, as well as medical, legal, and insurance costs. Stressed employees also experience impaired strategic thinking and dampened creativity.

Needless to say, burnout is a threat to your bottom line.

Surprisingly, fringe benefits such as onsite gyms and napping pods aren’t the answer to the problem. In fact, according to a recent study, researchers discovered that while wellness programs are naturally expected to reduce health care spending and absenteeism, they’re often not as effective as employers think.

Clinical psychologist and leadership consultant, Natalia Peart, says that employers must adopt organization-level resolutions for reducing workplace stress—fostering employee well-being while also boosting business performance.

Creating a Low Stress Work Environment

Workplaces with unclear expectations, unreasonable deadlines, or a hectic environment put employees in high-stress mode, bringing on a fight-or-flight emotion that takes over our bodies when we feel threatened.

Under this condition, with the primal, more emotional sections of our brains in charge, the ability to think long term, to strategize, and to innovate diminishes. Spending too much time in that state leads to burnout.

“To counter this effect, you need to build a secure work environment and incorporate stress reduction habits into your team’s daily workflows,” says Peart.

Here are 5 ways to make it happen:

1. Cultivate a “safe” environment

It’s hard to build the trust your team needs to effectively innovate and collaborate when employees feel threatened in the workplace. Author, Amy Edmondson, suggests three steps for building what she refers to as psychological safety.

You can begin by giving your employees clear goals so they know exactly what your expectations are. Second, your employees should feel that their voices are heard, and welcome. Invite people to speak up in meetings and conduct brainstorming sessions more than you dictate top-down decisions.

Lastly, create a work environment that’s challenging, yet unthreatening, by letting employees know it’s okay to fail. Encourage team members to think outside the box and recognize them when they do. Also, get in the habit of frequently asking your employees for feedback to demonstrate that you’re all in it together.

2.  Create the expectation of regular breaks throughout the workday

“The human brain can focus for around 90-120 minutes before it needs to rest,” says Peart. You should be encouraging your employees to step away from their desks every couple of hours.

Suggest a short walk or a coffee break to help them mentally disengage from their daily tasks. Set up calendar notifications to remind employees to take breaks, and don’t forget to lead by example.

Having mental space to rest the mind will help your employees perform well on a consistent basis.

3. Designate private workspaces for employees who need to focus

Open, flexible, activity-based spaces are displacing cubicles, but as Harvard Business Review discovered, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Designing workplaces for interaction is actually increasing stress and decreasing productivity.

Interestingly, open office layouts can often create the expectation that employees are always available for impromptu meetings and discussions.

Private workspaces provide employees with a place to focus and/or decompress. If your office isn’t set up for private work areas, use signals like “do not disturb” signs or schedule “quiet hours” when people can work uninterupted.

4. Set boundaries for time outside of work

In some cases, employees that aren’t all in one location need to work outside of traditional hours. Keep in mind, though, that blurring work and personal time is a significant source of job stress.

One study found that while answering emails increases employees’ anxiety, the expectation that they’ll also be available to do so outside of work hours adds another level of stress.

You can alleviate this by setting clear guidelines and following them. Only send emails and make calls after hours when it’s absolutely necessary (i.e.urgent).

5. Consider flexible work policies

In order to have adaptive employees, you need to provide an adaptable work environment. Give your team flexibility, allowing them to work hours that accomodate their varying needs.

Meet with each employee one-on-one to gain a better understanding of individual needs and try to find workable options for people struggling to balance life with their job.

Improve Employee Engagement 

According to decades of data, employee engagement reduces stress, and improves health and job satisfaction, along with increasing productivity, job retention, and profitability.

Use the 6 tips below to build a team that’s more engaged:

1. Openly Communicate With Employees

“If your team members are confused about how their work connects to and serves both the short- and long-term company goals, they will naturally become more stressed and less productive—especially in times of uncertainty,” states Peart.

A Gallup study of 2.5 million teams revealed that when managers communicated with their employees daily, they were 3X as likely to be engaged than if their managers didn’t communicate regularly with them. Sadly, a mere 40% of employees report that they’re well-informed about their company’s strategic goals.

As a business owner, part of your job is to help employees understand the role they play in helping the company achieve its larger goals. If your team is inquires about something you can’t share, be transparent about why to reduce any stress brought on by ambiguity.

2. Match people with the right roles

As you can imagine, team members that don’t like what they’re doing at your company are going to be less engaged. That’s why it’s important for their talents and strengths to be aligned with the responsibilities of their roles.

To make it happen, regularly check in with each member of your team. No need to hold formal conversations. Your aim is to learn about their goals, talents, interests and passions. Based on the information you gather, you can assign projects your team members will find meaningful. Don’t forget to follow up with them to ensure that they have the necessary tools to succeed.

3. Give your employees as much freedom as possible

Allow your team the autonomy to manage their projects in a way that works for them. According to research by Gallup, employees that are given the freedom to choose what tasks to do, when to do them, and how much time to spend on each one are 43% less likely to experience high levels of burnout.

To prepare employee to work independently, have them shadow you on a task or project first. From there, they can practice under your supervision. Be sure to get their feedback so you can get a feel for when they’ll be ready to work on their own.

4. Show interest in your employee’s growth and progression

Demonstrate your commitment to employee growth. They may not be promoted every year or two, but your people still need to feel like you’re willing to invest in their continued training and progress.

One way to do this is to support internal mobility. Allow your people to move around—or move on—if it’s a step in the right direction for their careers. Showing support for employee growth will increase trust between you and them.

5. Develop a culture of recognition

“Publicly recognizing the hard work and contributions of team members decreases feelings of stress and increases feelings of connection and belonging” claims Peart.

Research shows that companies with high-recognition cultures perform better and have less turnover than those that don’t. Undoubtedly, coping with the demands of work is easier when people feel supported and recognized for their efforts.

You can show your appreciatetion for exceptional performance by calling attention to it in team meetings or publicly congratulating employees for closing an important deal or going above and beyond their job responsibilities.

Creating a culture where peers recognize and show gratitude to one another will go a long way in ensuring that your employees stay happy and satisfied in their respective roles.

6. Instill a sense of purpose

If your employees only show up to work for a paycheck, their performance is more likely to suffer than if they had a sense of purpose in what they do.

Helping employees connect the impact of their work back to the real world can transform even tedious daily tasks into meaningful ones.

You can get the ball rolling by making purpose a part of your business plan and helping your employees understand the impact their work has within the company, as well as on society. It’s also important to share your purpose during the recruitment process, and hire candidates that support it.


“Burnout, and the consequences it reaps when unacknowledged, are detrimental to employee well-being and business performance,” warns Peart. “Leaders need to commit to changing what ‘workplace wellness’ looks like.”

Let the steps above guide you in creating a healthier work environment that reduces worker stress. In doing so, you’ll build a happier workforce with more productive employees that consistently contribute to the betterment of your business.

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Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.