Back in 2012, Federal Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen said in the report published by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:
“Stress at work can occur, but not permanently. And it should not make you ill either“.
The so-called Stress Report 2012 is probably the most comprehensive source of data published on this topic to date. The figures of the studies at that time show that mental health in the workplace is not a marginal issue. In 2012, mental disorders were responsible for more than 53 million sick days in Germany, and the trend is rising. Already 41 percent of early retirements have psychological causes. On average, those affected are only 48 years old.
This article gives you an overview of typical stress creators in the workplace and what can be done about them.
Stress is caused from being overworked, by time and performance pressure, a lack of guidance, multitasking or overly complex tasks. Whether an employee can perform their tasks and meet deadlines depends on how the work is organized. Stress also arises from lack of organization, leadership and technology. Here, important questions must be asked: Is there a lack of required tools? Do an employee's qualifications fit the position for which they were hired? Is there clear communication? Are disruptions being eliminated or are processes bumping into one another?
It also makes a difference whether management increases the pressure when problems arise or whether it organizes support for the employee. The same applies to a healthy error culture. Are mistakes discussed together and the problem analyzed so that it cannot happen again in the future, or is the employee affected reprimanded and left alone with the problem, which may have risen primarily due to a lack of guidance or excessive demands. It is also important to reflect on whether employees are being asked to do too much and how this stressful working environment could arise.
Stress leads to mistakes
Getting stressed and overworked should be avoided at all costs, because too much work is not only the problem of the employees in question. Stressed, overworked employees make significantly more mistakes, which would not have happened if they had enough time and an orderly work environment. In addition, an overloaded system leads to significantly less performance, which means goals can no longer be achieved. An overloaded company loses its reliability in service performance and partnerships. Processes take too long, deadlines are missed and quality deficiencies become apparent. Moreover, strategies and innovations do not progress and disruptions cannot be eliminated. If employees do not have the opportunity to meet the performance requirements expected of them, they lose their motivation in the long term and can therefore no longer work productively.
The vicious cycle of stress
Another problem is that stress creates more stress. Even coping with stress can become a new stress factor for employees. Worry develops among employees that they will not be able to meet the requirements. The greater the discrepancy between capabilities and job requirements, the more extra mental effort they have to put in to still meet performance expectations. Intense stress, chronic fatigue, and burnouts become more likely.
In order to meet the requirements in spite of this, the time commitment must be increased; time and performance pressure continue to rise. Because the quality of the results is often still insufficient, some high performers continue to increase their mental and time commitment. A dangerous vicious cycle appears.
The other extreme is resignation, in which case demotivation further worsens productivity and results. Nevertheless, even in this case, stress results for employees as a consequence of failure and performance expectations that are left unmet.
A problem rarely occurs just once
It becomes clear why stress and work-related mental illnesses, including burnouts, are increasing sharply. This is not only a burden on the health care system, but in the long term the affected company loses further competitiveness and profitability, for example due to restrictions on the stressed workforce's availability. Declining attractiveness as an employer, combined with demographic trends, cuts the company off from young talent. Good companies become bad ones, and entrepreneurial goals are jeopardized. In addition, it should not be underestimated that managers are most likely to lead well if they themselves have good working conditions. In fact, the work of managers in particular is characterized by a lack of time and a high level of demands. For this reason, company management must keep an eye on the health of their executives in order to avoid triggering another vicious cycle. It becomes clear that overworking of employees is something that both the employer and the employee concerned must take action against.
A healthy workplace
Health and productivity don't have to be oppose one another; on the contrary, the key to combating stress lies in the design of work. Clear organization, supportive leadership, and efficient technology all reduce stress for employees and increase a company's competitiveness. Effective measures can often be implemented quickly and easily. Improving work processes, reducing bureaucracy, fixed break times, practicing time & stress management, and limiting professional accessibility and e-mail overload. If slow and frustrating processes have been identified in the company, some work should be done to optimize them.
Digitalization can help
Nowadays there are countless digital solutions that save a company valuable time. The Fraunhofer Institute describes the digital transformation of a company not as a technological upgrade of the existing, but a dynamic change at all levels. Thus, such a transformation brings a big change, but ultimately significant added value and much less stress for everyone involved. If a company is not ready for a digital transformation, a few optimized processes can help reduce the workload of employees and significantly increase productivity. For almost every manual, outdated process, there is now a digital solution that makes life easier for those involved and, naturally, reduces stress. Digitized accounting, for example, can save a company up to 2,000 hours of work per year.
Finally, it must be said that work has a positive and psychologically stabilizing effect on most people, as long as it is carried out in a healthy way. Companies must take the health of their employees seriously, because a company is only as strong and productive as its employees.
"The goal is to create resilience not only for each individual employee, but for a company as a whole, so that change does not crush, but awakens endurance" (Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, Federal Minister).
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