This is what’s killing workplace productivity 

This is what’s killing workplace productivity

by Ankita Poddar 24/02/2019

In 2015 & 2016, creating a more humane workplace emerged as one of the top HR trends. In 2017, conversations around workplace stress and connected factors garnered lower interest and in 2018, the only conversation that remained was if machines were going to replace human beings. One would imagine that the lack of conversation around workplace stress might mean that we have made progress in this space. However, a quick look at the statistics show that stress continues to be a silent killer of productivity at the workplace.


In 2018, more than a third of working Americans (35 percent) reported experiencing chronic work stress, and less than half said their employer provides sufficient resources to help employees manage their stress. In a similar survey conducted in the UK, over a third (37%) of British residents feel stressed for at least one full day per week. That equates to four days in a month at minimum. As per innumerable news reports from around the world, the state of workplace stress isn’t any better in Canada, Germany, India and a number of other countries. Clearly, stress at workplace hasn’t improved significantly over the years. When one dives deeper into the issue, a more disturbing finding emerges. Employees around the world acknowledge that organizations now provide some or ample support to combat workplace stress, yet it has had minimal impact on stress levels. Why is it that unlimited vacation time, meditation and yoga classes at work, flexible working hours and more do little to ease workplace stress for the majority?


Enough has been written about unlimited vacation time, the bludgeoning population of employees who worry they’ll miss important information or opportunities when they take vacation time, and those who avoid taking time off because they feel guilty when they do and might be seen as less committed to their job. There is also sufficient evidence of the low participation in employer-provided wellness programs. There is no doubt that the steps organizations have taken to encourage work-life balance is valued. Flexible hours, working from home, wellness programs at work and encouraging time-off is important. Yet it is not enough. The top cause for workplace stress is workload. This is closely followed by the stress generated due to office politics, unclear expectations from managers and harassment at the workplace. The initiatives that most organizations have undertaken do little to address these. Businesses have to realize that not safeguarding the psychological health and safety of employees will put them at a competitive disadvantage. What is worse is that a small study conducted at the University of Calgary has found that stress can be contagious. While this is yet to be backed by conclusive science, it is devastating if true. If there is an old trend that we need to bring back in 2019, it is the drive to battle workplace stress.


So what can organizations do? Begin by adopting the two models recommended by this whitepaper – 1) a continual improvement or plan-do-check-act model, such as Morneau Shepell’s total health framework, which focuses on continual improvement, adjustment and evaluation to positively change work environments, and 2) a joint responsibility model, which puts onus on both the employee and employer to foster a healthy work environment through awareness, accountability and action. If you are looking for more, I’d recommend a focused approach on balancing workplace load. Start by analyzing the current organization structure. An organizational network analysis helps identify overleveraged and underleveraged talent apart from many other key variables. Use that information for load balancing and creating more effective structures and practices. Focus on setting clear expectations with all employees and helping them manage ambiguity. Double down on how harassment is managed in your organization. Remove as many roadblocks to reporting inappropriate behavior, take timely action and operate with transparency. Also, focus on creating meaning for the employees. Work burnout does not necessarily come from working too many hours; instead, it comes from lack of passion.


No matter how many wheels you set in motion to tackle workplace stress, remember this – feeling valued, fairness and trust are the biggest levers you can pull to ensure your employee’s psychological well-being. Everyone is responsible to do their bit in combating the causes of workplace stress. Don’t let this be the biggest danger looming in your organization.

Ankita Poddar is HR professional based out of India. Identified as one of the emerging HR leaders in India in 2016,  Ankita's experience as an HR Business Partner gives her the opportunity to work closely with business leaders, innovate and execute on the behalf of customers especially in areas of people analytics, employee engagement, rewards and recognition and performance management. Ankita blogs about all things HR at Follow her on Twitter @ankitapoddar

Ankita Poddar

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