Is your culture killing your workers?

Workplace stress is unavoidable, but companies can and should do more to mitigate deleterious—or even deadly—effects. Minding employee health is just smart business.

At some point, we’ve all uttered a variation of the phrase: “This job is killing me.”

Unfortunately, a BBC story confirms that it’s probably not a drastic exaggeration.

Stress is an inherent part of work, but many companies are putting the screws to workers as never before. Layoffs, long (or unpredictable) hours, unsafe working conditions, poor benefits and spiteful (or incompetent) bosses are just a few hazards that can undercut employee performance.

The BBC article quotes a figure from the American Institute of Stress, which asserts that “workplace stress costs the American economy some $300 billion each year.” Aside from the productivity, turnover and morale side of things, the health costs of stress are staggering:

There were 120,000 extra deaths annually in the U.S. from harmful management practices, and that extra health-care costs were $190 billion each year. That would make the workplace the fifth leading cause of death, worse than kidney disease or Alzheimer’s.

Measuring workplace health and well-being, not just profits

So, what’s the answer? Offering workers more autonomy and flexibility is a good place to start. According to the BBC, “For decades research has shown that giving people more control over how and when they do their jobs increases motivation and engagement.”

It’s also about creating a culture that genuinely values (and actively promotes) a healthy work-life balance. The BBC lauds companies such as Patagonia, Collective Health, SAS Institute, Google, John Lewis Partnership and Zillow as shining examples of healthy workplaces in action. As the piece puts it:

People get paid time off and are expected to use it. Managers don’t send emails or texts at all hours—people work, go home and have time to relax and refresh. The organizations offer accommodations so that people can have both a job and a family life. People are treated like adults and have control over what they do and how they do it to meet their job responsibilities, not micromanaged.

Most importantly, the companies are led by individuals who take their obligations to their people seriously.

Of course, none of this happens without empathetic leaders who put their money where their mouths are in terms of people-first policies. As the piece states: “Business leaders should measure the health of their workforce, not just profits.”

Businesses must recognize that burdensome hours or squeezing workers with unreasonable demands will only decrease productivity and profitability. Grinding your people into dust—whether through stress, fear, hostility, pressure, poor benefits or excessive competition—will hurt your bottom line.

Instead of killing your workers with stress, strive to create a more empathetic culture that values employee well-being.

Read the rest of the BBC piece here.

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