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Time and anxiety really do matter

By Dr. Steve M. Cohen

Stress is actually a good thing until it overloads people. This overloaded situation is actually called “dis-stress.” The ability to accommodate stress is inherent in all of us, but how much stress we can manage is a personal matter. Anxiety, resulting from stress overload or other issues, is not a good thing in anyone’s life.

A question that must be considered is whether your office is overly stressful or are some of the employees overly sensitive to the normal stress at work. Employees who are not able to tolerate normal or intermittent stress are not a good match for your office. When anxiety appears in employees, the organization must determine the cause—a too stressful workplace or employees not able to perform in the particular setting.

When I am faced with anxiety or worry about a particular matter, I try to figure out the worst outcome and then begin to accept that worst outcome. Employers, managers or coworkers can be instruments of anxiety reduction. Good management starts with awareness that others are experiencing anxiety or stress, followed by offering to listen and providing support. This used to be called moral support—letting people know that they are not going through this alone is stress and anxiety reducing.

Another solution is to offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This is a very inexpensive benefit where the organization contracts with a local mental health provider to establish a confidential service that allows the employee to access the provider when he or she has problems. The problems can be related to stress and anxiety at work or drug abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling problems, marital issues or any other problem. The service is paid for by the employer but, again, guarantees confidentially to the employee. It is access to a professional responder when an employee reaches out for help.

Managers can be instruments of anxiety reduction for employees. It starts with awareness that others are experiencing anxiety or stress. Then, offering to listen and offering support. Just the act of letting people know that they are not going through the anxiety causing issue alone results in stress and anxiety reduction.

Employers should not create “pressure cooker” work environments. I have seen many such environments over my years as a consultant. One had five employees under 40 years of age seeing doctors and taking medications for stress. They even had one manager hauled out of the office on a stretcher with a heart attack. The State Human Rights Commission issued a seven-figure fine against the organization for inflicting so much stress and anxiety onto their employees. When asked what in the world the managers thought they were doing, their answer was, “We were just trying to see if they would ‘sink or swim.'” Not a good plan.

Managers should also consider annual employee satisfaction surveys. Employers compete for employees and creating an attractive work environment is a “retainage” tool. You should strive to create and maintain a 90% rating. That means that 90% of all employees register high levels of satisfaction with their organization, its policies, practices, and (most importantly) management. Management should know if employees are overly stressed or anxious at work. If they find out that a state of dis-stress or high anxiety exists at work, steps should be taken to find out why, and steps should be taken to reduce that condition immediately.

Dr. Steve M. Cohen is Principal and Lead HR Consultant at HR Solutions: On Call, an advisory service for medical practices and other small businesses.









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