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Updated Nov 07, 2023

Stress and Productivity: What the Numbers Say

Stress leads to employee burnout, low morale and high absenteeism. Here is how workers can mitigate their anxiety.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Stress and anxiety rank among the most common workplace challenges. Some 83 percent of Americans experience work-related stress, according to Zippia. This is why it’s essential for supervisors, managers and employees to identify stress and anxiety symptoms and implement strategies to ease pressures in the workplace.

Workplace stress can have substantial consequences – such as burnout, low morale and high absenteeism – impacting productivity as well as a business’s financial performance. 

The impact of stress on productivity

Whether it is related to family, health, work or school, everyone experiences stress at some time. It is physical and mental and is often caused by life events, such as a change in responsibilities, job loss or promotion, death of a loved one, or illness.

Although stress can be beneficial, it can also be a disadvantage, especially when it comes to job productivity. Since stress can have a significant impact on your physical and mental well-being, it can ultimately affect your productivity. Zippia reports that over 50 percent of employees are disengaged at work as a result of stress. Here are some of the signs that stress is negatively impacting your productivity:

  • Lack of energy: Although stress is known to give you a burst of adrenaline, following the initial boost, it will rapidly drain your energy, which ultimately leaves you emotionally and physically drained. The lack of physical and mental energy can prevent you from doing your best, which will have a significant impact on productivity.
  • Lack of focus: Good production requires focus, but stress will take over your mind, making it extremely difficult to focus on the task at hand because you are more focused on what caused your stress.
  • Constant worry: Have you ever been so consumed with worry about something that may happen? Stress has a way of taking up your time by making you continuously worry about something that may or may not happen; this is time lost that could have been spent on more productive tasks.
  • Reduced creativity: Being stressed causes your mind to wander, preventing you from locking in on new ways of thinking. It basically limits your ability to come up with creative, innovative ideas.
  • Negative effects on personality: Not only does stress affect your emotions and physical abilities, but it also affects your personality. For instance, you may snap at peers without realizing that you are doing it, or you may become angry and/or yell at others without knowing you’re doing it. Many jobs require teamwork in some form, so when you are snapping, moody or yelling at peers, it affects your ability to be productive, plus it affects the productivity of peers.
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If you notice any of these signs in yourself, consider how recent life events or changes in responsibilities may be causing you stress. Addressing the root of your stress can help reduce its effects on your productivity and health. See our suggestions below.

How stress affects company productivity

One of the most common ways stress affects the overall production of a company is through absenteeism, with about 1 million Americans taking off each day across the country due to work stress, reports Zippia. Stress-related symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, high blood pressure and headaches take a toll, causing even those with good attendance to begin missing more and more work

These are some other ways stress may affect your company’s productivity:

  • Staff turnover: Stress in a company may lead to restless employees who have the desire to find a less stressful job. This ultimately creates an increase in staff turnover, which forces your company to put more funding and time into hiring and training new employees.
  • Tardiness: Almost every company has a few people who occasionally struggle with being on time, but when employees who are typically punctual begin to have an increase in tardiness, it may be an indication of stress. This may be due to the fact that stress and anxiety often interrupt sleep, which makes it more difficult to wake up in the morning.
  • Peer relationships: Unfortunately, stress also prevents otherwise energetic conversationalists from interacting with their peers. This is often due to them isolating themselves and being deprived of the energy required to make small talk or polite conversations. The lack of peer relationships and communication may eventually impact the company’s productivity.
  • Quality of work: Stress can lead to fatigue, personality changes, withdrawal from others and a decrease in enthusiasm, all of which can significantly impact the productivity of your company. Research from North Carolina State University found that between 2021 and 2023, worker productivity in the U.S. fell 2 percent, a significant decrease compared to the last 70 years.

How to reduce stress

It’s important to be informed as to how stress can impact you and your employees, but how do we change it? Here are some helpful ideas:

  • Get physical. One benefit of exercise is the effect it has on stress. Not only does it pump your body full of feel-good endorphins, but it can also help you sleep better and aid in relaxation.
Did You Know?Did you know
Other physical symptoms of stress, like changes in your gastrointestinal system, can be helped by exercise.
  • Take a breathing break. A stressed body is in overdrive. Try taking five minutes to yourself and focusing on your breathing. This will help to slow your heart rate and lower blood pressure.
  • Try a creative outlet. Focusing on an art project or a creative project is a great way to focus on a nonwork-related task that stimulates your brain. Adult coloring books are all the rage for this reason.
  • Make your workspace more comfortable. It’s important to set boundaries between work and home, but a healthy workspace doesn’t need to be stark. Add a few cozy elements that feel like home, and consider investing in ergonomic office equipment. Your body and mind will thank you. [Read more about how open office plans affect workplace productivity.]
  • Focus on positives. Stressed thoughts often focus on negatives. Each day, set time aside to focus on the good by writing down at least three things that went right or unexpectedly well. Keep your list in an easily accessible place.
  • Speak with a qualified professional. The events that cause stress can’t be changed, but the way you think about them can. A professional trained in cognitive behavioral therapy can help you rescript stress-causing thoughts as they happen.
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You can combat workplace stress by exercising, practicing deep breathing, engaging in creative activities and making your workplace more comfortable. [Read related article: Massages and Pets and Beer, Oh My! Creative Perks for Improved Morale]

There are various things you can do to reduce the amount of stress in your business, communication being the most beneficial. Encourage communication among teams as well as between management and employees. If a specific team member is displaying signs of stress, discuss and offer options as to how other team members and/or management may be able to help. Offer employees regular breaks, and encourage exercise and healthy eating.

Lauren Kubiak contributed to this article.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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