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Manage organizational stress to improve morale and productivity

Lubna Somjee, Ph.D. Clinical and Health Psychologist/Executive Coach and Business Strategy Consultant

Have you ever heard someone say, ‘My job is killing me!’ Well, research shows this may not be too far from the truth. Our work environments have an impact on our mental and medical well-being. We also know that a stress filled workplace, or distressed workplace, can also lead to the dysfunction or demise of an organization.

Stress management is more than just a ‘feel good’ concept. Stress has been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization and is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year.

Why care about organizational health? Similar to people, every organization experiences stress. While stress is inevitable, distress is not. Managing stress within organizations effectively is the difference between diseased, stagnant and dysfunctional organizations versus sustainable, healthy, thriving organizations.

Similar to distressed people, distressed organizations will become less functional and ultimately less responsive to the market. There are some real costs to having an unhealthy, or distressed, organization. These include:

  • Participation: Distressed organizations experience an increase in employee absenteeism or employees who are late for work or leave early. In extreme circumstances poor participation can lead to high rates of turnover, or strikes.
  • Performance: Distressed organizations often note that the quality or quantity of employee productivity is poor which impacts the bottom line.
  • Relationships: Employees may be more disrespectful or distrustful of their peers or management. You may find more angry employees or disgruntled employees. At it’s most extreme, workplaces can find themselves with employees who are aggressive or violent.
  • Future costs: Not having a healthy and nimble organization can mean losing out on opportunities in the market which translates to lost profits.
  • Life: A lifeless stressed organization is a place people do not want to be. Employees will often experience low morale and motivation, and be dissatisfied overall which in turn impacts their performance.
  • Healthcare costs: If employees are stressed, they are more likely to experience emotional distress as well as an increase in medical issues. All of these will also impact not only quality of work but increase spending in healthcare costs.

Workplace settings are dynamic and ever changing. It is important to be mindful of changes so that you can be responsive to your employees and ultimately your organization, on an ongoing basis.

There are numerous ways to address organizational stress and increase employee engagement. In order to truly create a rich work environment, a multi-pronged approach needs to be developed that addresses the culture of the organization. Leaders need to address education, structure, people, organizational politics and the big picture that drives the organization.


Do provide education

Provide tools for your employees (and yourself) to manage stress. Bring in experts to discuss the impact of stress on the mind and body and provide educational tools. Back concepts they have learned by providing manageable work schedules, offering stress management programs on an ongoing basis, and taking into account work/life balance as part of your workplace culture.

Do have structure

Attend to the structure of your organization. This includes making sure the goals of the organization, and each department, are clear to everyone. Each employee should have their roles and responsibilities clearly outlined for them. Everyone should be clear who they report to and how performance will be determined. The more clarity within your the workplace is, the more efficiently it runs. Make sure to align the individual to their job. For example, some may love the security of monotonous tasks and others may become under stimulated and lose interest in their job.

Do engage in participative management

Engage in participative management. Participative management also goes a long way to helping people feel an integral part of an organization, thereby increasing loyalty. Let people know what is happening within the workplace, be transparent and elicit feedback on various issues such as goal-setting and problem solving.

Do address organizational politics

Many workplace settings often avoid talking about the ‘shadow’ side of organizations. Just as every one of us has a ‘shadow’ side, every organization as its imperfections. If the shadow side of an organization is not addressed, it can grow and leave the organization dysfunctional. Be aware of cliques or power struggles within the organization, as well as toxic people, and develop plans to address these issues directly.

Do keep in mind the big picture

It’s easy to feel like a cog in a large wheel. Help employees focus on the heart of what they do. How meaningful their work is beyond their office. This is not simply done by messaging, but by infusing opportunities to talk and illustrate the soul of your organization, and ultimately how customers/patients are helped.


Do not become stagnant

Don’t assume that once you have addressed issues related to organizational vitality, that you have completed the job. Just as market forces change, organizations change and are constantly in flux. You may find that what you implement, or how you implement, will likely change over time.

Do not forget employee development

Providing professional development opportunities reinforces to employees that they are accomplishing and progressing in their careers. It often spurs creativity in the workplace which only helps create thriving organizations.

Do not surround yourself with ‘yes’ people

At times organizations find themselves moving forward with ideas or initiatives that are less than useful. However, people are not often willing to speak up for fear of retaliation. Be sure to surround yourself with people who are bright but also encouraged them to challenge ideas with the goal of furthering the development of the organization.

Do not forget your employees are your most important asset

We may know this intellectually, however, our behavior needs to reflect this as well on a daily basis. Focusing on the needs of your customers/patients is important but ultimately if employees are happy, your customers/patients will be as well.

Do not implement tactics

Don’t focus on implementing tactics to keep your organization healthy. It’s not about tactics or messaging. Focus on developing a healthy culture which takes time and energy but the payoffs are huge.

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These are just a few of many opportunities to help keep an organization from becoming chronically distressed, and ultimately dysfunctional. There are in fact numerous ways to keep an organization healthy, vibrant and help to maintain sustainable growth. A one size fits all approach usually is not helpful so take the time to sit back and reflect on what might best work for your organization. If you are having trouble, bring in a consultant with an unbiased perspective to help you assess the gaps, and how best to address them. Most approaches take little to no money at all but go a long way towards keeping your workplace healthy, sustainable and thriving.

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Photo Credits: © Andres Rodriguez -; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Lubna Somjee, Ph.D.Clinical and Health Psychologist/Executive Coach and Business Strategy Consultant

Dr. Somjee is a licensed psychologist with extensive training and experience in evidence based clinical and health psychology services. She provides treatment for adults and adolescents with a wide variety of emotional and medical concerns. ...

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