This is a stressful time—in many different ways and for all of us. Our work lives have been profoundly changed, and there are other stressors on top of that. This matters because people are not at their best when they are stressed out, be it in their personal or professional lives. It’s important that we all practice self-care and help each other to be healthier. To that end, employers should be trying to figure out how to help their employees achieve this goal, and reducing stress in the workplace is one way to help.
There are lots of ways to reduce stress, but I want to talk about one particular method: clear, concise, documented policies. There are a lot of good reasons to have documented policies. That’s not a news flash. What you may not have realized, though, is how much stress can be generated when these policies aren’t in place. It’s the kind of anxiety that can lead your employees to underperform and eventually even quit.
Humans do not like uncertainty, a source of worry in itself. So when clear policies aren’t established in your workplace, you can see how stress can develop in their absence. It’s honestly kind of that simple. Policies that are not documented, are vague, not communicated clearly, or not followed, will ultimately lead to confusion, misunderstandings, conflict, and stress. Clarity = peace of mind.
Here is a simple example: responding to emails or texts outside of working hours. Indeed, what are working hours anymore? Encouraging your employees to “take care of yourself and don’t worry, you can get to it whenever, during working hours” isn’t as stress free as you might think it is. “Whenever” is sometimes more stressful than saying “We don’t send emails or texts after 9 pm.” We already have to deal with vague windows of time from the cable guy—let’s not do the same thing to our employees!
The pandemic has only heightened our inherent need for clear policies. In a hybrid or fully remote workforce, casual conversations have gone by the wayside, and the effectiveness of group meetings— now held virtually—is spotty for this. There is less chance to clarify things on the fly and so the importance of documented, clearly communicated policies becomes critical. The pandemic has also ushered in new ways of working for which few policies may have existed before. Even if your firm had some remote employees, very few firms were primarily or totally WFH as we have experienced the last two years.
Understandably, pandemic policies were created on the fly, and the situation was fluid. It’s now time to formalize and document how things are going to work. I’m not suggesting you rewrite your entire handbook (although you could if it needs it!), but take a look at where things have changed dramatically and start there. It’s not a magic potion that will solve every problem or employee concern, but it can help. Companies that leave their employees in limbo risk losing them to companies that offer more certainty. That’s reason enough to do something.
I know what I’m suggesting isn’t a fun or exciting solution. It may seem like reimbursing employees for gym memberships or providing a dedicated quiet space to meditate would reduce stress to a greater degree. These are certainly good ideas, but don’t overlook the benefit of having proper, documented policies in place. Life is kind of complicated right now. Clear policies can make a real difference in offering peace of mind—and they don’t require redecorating part of the office. Even better, it improves things for every employee, not just the ones that go to the gym.
Need more tips on coping with stress in the workplace? We’ve written several other columns with the mental health of you and your employees in mind: