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Illuminating Hidden Causes of Workplace Stress

Companies can't see what they don't value.

One of the biggest causes of conflict in the world is due to misunderstanding. So what happens when employers misunderstand their employees? That's what a survey discovered in a CFO article entitled, "Why Your Top Talent Wants Out."

I'm stressed and you don't see it
According to the research cited, Human Resource professionals believed the number one reason high achievers leave a company is due to a lack of promotion opportunities.

They were wrong.

Can you guess the number one reason a top-performing employee would leave a company - especially in this economy? Why would you leave?

If you guessed stress, you were right. The high achievers that were surveyed reported work-related stress as the number one factor for leaving a company. Interestingly, out of the five potential causes cited by HR professionals that top-performing employees would leave, not one of the reasons included stress.

What makes this misunderstanding even more startling is that those same
HR professionals acknowledged that workers have been working longer hours than normal for the past three years - and will most likely continue the overworked pace for the next three years.

Can you say burnout?

Perhaps HR professionals missed stress as a motivating factor for quitting because it is so obvious. Or maybe because they, too, are experiencing the same stress and they're in denial about it. Whatever the case, workplace stress is a serious issue - perhaps now more than ever. And something needs to be done about it.

Money Talks

But before we address stress, we may need to prove the value of an employee's contributions. At least that's what commonly gets done. Monetary worth seems to justify measures for making improvement.

In doing so, it should be noted that not only is stress overlooked, so are the full effects of an employee's value to an organization. As an example, many economists currently place the value of an employee as equal to the pay the employee receives. This doesn't take the broader spectrum of an employee's full contributions into account. To accommodate for that, Health Economics reported some interesting statistics by Nicholson and colleagues where they created multipliers to convey a more complete dollar value lost to a company when an employee is sick. As an example, paralegals have a big impact on the bottom line as they are an integral component of the entire legal team and are responsible for time-sensitive information.

While this makes a lot of sense to most people, much of the corporate analyses still use statistics of employee value = employee pay. When the full contributions of one's work aren't acknowledged, think it might add to workplace stress? Thus, many current workplaces have lot of people taking up the slack for unfilled positions and working longer and harder than ever - and the slap in the face is that the stress is not recognized nor is the full value of one's contributions.

This is a serious problem.

While I can't prove the direct correlation, I suspect it contributes to the increasing reports of depression in the workplace. In fact, it has been estimated that depression costs American employers $44 billion in lost productivity every year, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol 289, No. 23). (If you were thinking about my earlier point on the economist's measurement of value, yes, this figure could be even higher.)

Perahps the real problem is what we're ignoring
We shouldn't have to prove our dollar value to have our worth recognized. Instead, we should be recognized when we are kind and treat our fellow employees with compassion and patience. We should be recognized when our sense of humor makes going to work more fun. We should be recognized when our sense of responsibility and honesty makes us trustworthy employees that don't steal or take advantage of company resources. We should be recognized for our dignity and grace, which creates a healthy morale and stress-free workplace.

At the end of the day, the things that alleviate stress often have nothing to do with money. In spite of my bringing up the statistics of an employee's value, maybe it's time that we make assessments that exceed dollar value. It's simplistic to reduce things to a bottom-line. Maybe too simplistic. Perhaps in our evolution, we can look at the bottom-line results AND the more ethereal contributions of an employee. When we value real compassion, kindness, and integrity (and not just use them as sellable words in a hollow mission statement), perhaps then we will have the kind of working environment that everyone wants to work in - including the HR professionals and the executives. When we listen and genuinely care for others with empathy, we receive the same in kind. That's when the bottom-line becomes an effect of doing good work in the world.

In closing, I'd like to remind all HR professionals and executives of a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, "A house divided shall not stand." Therefore, listen to your employees and hear their heart and their words.

To all employees (which includes the HR folks and executives) and people everywhere, I will share these additional words of wisdom by Mr. Lincoln:

"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong."