Nov 21, 2014
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How Workplace Stress Compromises Employee Safety

The workplace environment consists of more than just a building and equipment. To truly account for all of the environmental variables you have to consider the human elements such as the culture, the morale, the employee relationships, management practices, safety procedures that describe how an employee interacts with the work environment, and any type of distractions.

Social culture is a part of the workplace environment and should be considered a variable worth managing to maximize company successes. There are some specific components to the employee culture that can directly affect the productivity and efficiency of your employees.

How Workplace Stress Compromises Employee Safety

Stress Originating from the Workplace

Stress is very highly misunderstood, and it is entirely possible that someone is stressed and is not aware of his or her own condition.  The symptoms are simple enough: low energy, headaches, upset stomach to include diarrhea or constipation or nausea, chest pains accompanied with high heart rates, tense muscles that are in pain or ache, insomnia, frequent colds or infections, and loss of libido.

These symptoms together or separately can be indicators of so many other problems that the most apparent cause; stress, may be overlooked. Like most problems that are left unattended, compounded stress over time only grows until something gives way.  Usually, it is a person carrying the stress.

There are many causes of stress and individuals handle stress very differently from one person to the next. The perceptions of culture and the importance of developing a strong positive atmosphere free from distractions have become more pronounced over the evolution of the industrial and technological ages. Organizations have become aware of the need for emotional intelligence in management personnel and corporate policies.

While it is difficult to have an impact on contributors to stress outside of the workplace, management can directly influence the effects of stress within the workplace either positively or negatively. Negative stress should not originate in the workplace. At the same time, positive stress is a vital asset when employed tactically.

Negative Social Stress

Safety first, safety always. Stress is a two-edged sword in the world of work. Someone who feels like they have their job on the line every day feel the pressures of performance and process every mistake as a potential opportunity for the unemployment line. When this type of stress is present employees will do their best to hide mistakes or errors and the stress only grows.

Management can counteract this problem with an open door policy and by promoting the culture that believes any problem can be fixed, and every employee is valuable and worth training. Care should be prudently exercised to make sure the environment of carelessness does not grow which requires excellent communication strategies. Demanding excellence while still tolerating imperfection is a tightly walked line.

Setting unrealistic goals and linking bonuses and rewards to them causes stress. Employees work with the idea of a return and want to do well by themselves in addition to the employer. When management tries to make the sale of benefits for performance, and the goals are unachievable, the stress will be widespread and will breed contempt. A contemptuous culture will lay the groundwork for a unified pressure.

Combined tension that employees believe to be a result of some injustice will lead to employees against management or the organization. Theft of company supplies and inventory will rise, hostility towards authority becomes blatant, and battles with temperamental employees become more frequent. Again, stress builds, compounds, and explodes. Stress is the combustible fuel that needs only the smallest spark to ignite.

There are a number of stressors socially, and it is impossible to put together an exhaustive list. To name a few; however, consider workplace bullying, absentee managers, overbearing managers, harassment, degrading comments, lack of training, and lack of viable company policies or leadership. Micromanagement policies that regulate a minute to minute performance metric can be highly stressful.

Companies with very high sales goals or collections goals are going to operate in perpetual fear. Customer service, that represents the problem-solving team that interacts with the public, are under constant pressure of meeting needs. Everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the culture of an organization in one way, or another.

External Stress Variables

Something as simple as a broken AC unit can increase stress. When the temperature rises, the blood can boil figuratively. Overheated work areas can cause tension to skyrocket as employees are uncomfortable and tire quickly. While governmental regulatory bodies have a hard time governing the culture of the company, they are superb at regulating health and safety policies. In the policy manual there should be plans for emergencies that are a threat to property or personnel.

In the case of an scorching workplace, employers must have a readiness guide to identify heat risks and treatments should employees suffer a heat stroke or similar experience.

Stressors for every business and every worker are different. State laws also vary and may require different standards for different industries. California requires mechanics that bring their own tools to be paid twice the minimum wage. That is incredible and unheard of anywhere else, but it makes sense. Imagine the stress of an employee that has to have the tools at work to work on anything in order to keep their job. Tools are expensive, and there are thousands of different types of cars.

This pay difference is equivalent to shops buying the tools for their employees and more in the long haul. A mechanic that must buy their tools may buy the cheapest tools available or use tools for purposes outside of their intended design. Safe practices become safety hazards when the practice is modified and corners are cut.

External variables can include the dress code, small noisy cubicles under fluorescent lights, slow computers or internet, dirty work conditions, unsafe equipment, nonexistent health and safety policies, or any other consideration you may have. Like social stressors, external variables are countless, and everyone handles them differently. Any person, place, or thing can be a contributor to increased stress levels.

The Organizational Role

Set proper policies in place. California is one of the most regulated places in the country and does have some keen policy insights. Hosting regular staff meetings, safety briefings, implement inventory management techniques, have your policies posted clearly and review them with your staff regularly. Promote behaviors you want repeated through praise and recognition.

Emphasize company policies to discourage unwanted behaviors, so everyone is working in the same direction and has one mind. Stress is multiplied in chaos and confusion when everyone is responsible, and no one knows what to do.

Organizations must act purposely, proactively, and positively. Take the initiative in getting to know your employees and give them plenty of ear time to discover what types of things in the workplace cause stress. If management can identify the issues that create stress, the business will become extremely successful if the stress factors are reduced or eliminated. The number of safety violations will dramatically decrease, and the team culture will overcome the individual conflicts. Without conflict, stress has no place to live and grow.

Control the conflict and you will control the stress. Creating conflict between groups through competition can be a positive stress. Telling employees that they have to leave their problems from home at home is a good way to make the workplace environment a care free zone. Every employer has an opportunity to set the tone of the culture and the relationships with employees. Leadership is a process and following is a choice.

To lead someone with your vision your vision has to be something they can visualize themselves. Visions cannot be confusing; the direction, the roles of employees, and their respective responsibilities must be clear. Stress is also reduced when employees work in a company that they know is compliant with all local government, state government, and federal regulations/statutes.

All of these things are within the control of management if they care to put the needs for stress management in the appropriate perspective. If you’re not sure where to start, you can reduce the stress on yourself by hiring a consulting company such as California Employer Services to point out opportunities for improvement.

The writer, Ray Donato, is very familiar with the dangers of workplace stress, having himself been injured due to preoccupation with workplace concerns. As such he recommends that minimizing stress should be a management priority. To learn more about Ray you can visit on Google+.

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