Understanding that a stress problem is likely to cost your business significantly in terms of absence, turnover and lost productivity is important, so you need to make sure you address it when there is an issue, but how do you actually know if there is a problem?
Make sure you are keeping good absence records, including number of days lost, and causes. Sometimes you might have someone off specifically with stress, or work-related stress, in which case obviously it’s easy to identify that’s an issue.
But also consider whether absence rates overall are higher than you’d perhaps expect. Are there lots of Monday absences? Absences with vague reasons given? It might be that work-related stress factors are at least partially at play here as well.
Do you measure staff turnover? If you don’t specifically measure it, you can consider whether actually more staff are leaving your business than you are happy about. Why might that be? Sometimes staff give reasons they are leaving, and if these relate to management style, workload or relationships at work, then that’s a clear indicator you might have a stress problem.
But if no reasons are given and you’re not sure why people are leaving, perhaps consider some kind of exit interviews or other ways of seeking feedback from leavers. They may or may not feel able to be honest, (and if not, that’s a problem in itself!) but it might at least give you some indication to go on.
If there is a stress problem, you may notice a reduction in productivity levels, or standards of performance might decline or become erratic. Are deadlines being missed, work left incomplete, or customer complaints and concerns increasing? Are staff raising concerns about workload or task-related problems? All of this could indicate there is a stress problem in your business.
Employees might demonstrate loss of concentration, motivation or commitment. You might find them less willing to “go the extra mile’ at key busy times. Lateness may increase; employees may become irritable, over-sensitive, withdrawn or demonstrate mood swings or out-of-character behaviour.
You may notice more disputes and disaffection within a team, and an increase in complaints or grievances.
Of course all of the above possible indicators of stress are problems in themselves, and worth investigating and addressing. There may be unrelated causes and different solutions, so keeping an eye on all this stuff is a key part of good management anyway, and should help your business regardless of whether stress is a factor. But if you’re noticing trends in these areas, and/or have had staff off with stress or related symptoms, it may be that stress is a specific problem and it’s time to take steps to address it.