How to spot—and handle—employee stress


  • Employee stress surrounding work affects 61 percent of Americans.
  • Worry about poor performance and working long days are two common reasons for employee stress.
  • Identifying frequent sources of worker stress makes helping ease employee stress possible.

According to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America survey of 3,440 U.S. adults, 61 percent of Americans are stressed about—you guessed it—work. Almost half of the respondents say that stressors in their life have caused them sleepless episodes.

That’s obviously not a good thing for your job site. Stress distracts employees from getting their jobs done. It can even lead to injuries on the job site. A stressed employee operating a forklift is literally an accident waiting to happen.

Causes of Employee Stress

While there are many causes of stress at work, there are a few especially common reasons employees might feel stressed:

  • Not performing to expectations. Most of your employees really want to do the best job possible. Many of them are aware that margins are thin and their performance is vital. That desire to do “good,” combined with not knowing if they’re operating up to par, can lead to a stress mess.
  • Unrelentingly long, grueling days. Sure, your crew will need to work some extra-long days at times to keep clients happy and win more work. However, week after week of cramming too much work into the day will cause anyone to burn out.
  • Week after week of cramming too much work into the day will cause anyone to burn out.

  • Unreasonable and unreachable deadlines. Long days are often a result of deadlines that your crew can’t possibly meet. Any employee will begin to unravel when he or she realizes that there’s no end in sight (or chance of success).
  • Toxic coworkers with bad attitudes. There are always those rotten apples that can’t help but badmouth everything—from the foreman to the client. Even the calmest employees will start to stress after listening to this every day.
  • Poor job fit. If an employee isn’t suited for construction work, every day is going to be a stressful day.

Signs of Stressed Employees

Here are some signs that your workers are heading for anxiety and burnout:

  • Confusion. If your foreman has explained a job thoroughly and the employee still shows signs of not understanding, he or she may be experiencing excess stress.
  • Change in behavior or performance. Of course, everyone has an off day, but if a good worker suddenly has a string of bad days, it could be caused by stress. Behavior changes to look for include lack of focus and attention to detail, showing up late for work, and taking longer than usual to finish tasks.
  • When employees feel safe, they’ll perform better. Click To Tweet
  • Mood swings. If one minute an employee is cheerful and the next angry or frustrated, he or she may be under heavier-than-usual stress, says Shane Green, founder and president of the Corporate Training Company, SGEI, and author of Culture Hacker. “Unfortunately, behaviors like depression, addiction, and destructive tendencies can be the result of stress.”

How to Help Stressed Employees

For the sake of the employee and crew, it’s a good idea to do your best to assist stressed employees as well as help prevent workplace stress in the first place. There are a variety of ways to approach this.

  • Make expectations clear. Make it clear to employees what you expect of them. Also, give your employees feedback about their performances routinely.
  • Create a culture of safety. “In order to have employees work to their utmost capabilities, it’s important that they feel valued and cared for,” says Green. “In construction, this means focusing on employee safety and welfare. When employees feel safe, they’ll perform better and be more diligent about how they interact with others.”
  • Ensure employee downtime. Continuous work will generally lead to stress. See that employees take all scheduled breaks, with no exceptions. Also, make vacation time a priority. Give employees the opportunity to take longer vacations, paid or unpaid, without penalty. “When employees take vacations, ensure they fully disconnect,” adds Green. “Make every effort not to contact them.”
  • See that employees take all scheduled breaks, with no exceptions.

  • Aim for work-life balance. A life that is balanced between work and personal pursuits is generally less stressful. “Help your employees (and yourself) find a better balance between personal and work life,” says Green. “Doing so will improve their work life and prevent stress and burnout.”
  • Encourage good nutrition. Poor nutrition doesn’t necessarily cause stress (it may be the other way around), but eating unhealthy foods can make you feel worse. Suggest your employees eat well on the job, and set an example by doing the same.

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