The Best Strategy To Reduce Stress & Anger In The Workplace

Mark Sagor

mentorWorkplaces with high levels of employee stress and anger are increasing their risk for many negative business outcomes including:

  • Employee fatigue, concentration difficulties and diminished problem-solving abilities
  • Diminished quality, productivity and customer service
  • Under reporting of critical business issues (in order to avoid blame)
  • Poor teamwork and coordination among individuals who are resentful and feel that they have been treated unfairly
  • Increased absenteeism

Typically, organizations focus their efforts to reduce stress and anger on interventions which are designed to improve the abilities of the stressed employee to cope with and manage their reactions, thoughts and feelings. These employee focused stress management programs teach individuals a variety of techniques for relaxing, breathing, thinking differently, responding more assertively, cultivating better work/personal balance etc.

EAP firms, like ours, are often called upon to deliver these programs in seminars and lunch and learn formats. At the risk of biting the hand that feeds us, I would like to suggest that these employee focused programs, while sometimes helpful, do not represent the best strategy for reducing employee stress and anger in the workplace.

A much more effective strategy would be to focus on improving the work environment itself by upgrading the skill set of managers. Unfortunately, there is a perverse and pervasive “Catch-22” at work here. Organizations say: “We are simply too busy to take the time necessary to pull managers from their daily responsibilities in order to offer them training.”

The irony is that, in organizations with highly stressed and angry employees, manager time is often monopolized by responding to the failures, problems and conflicts caused by those same stressed and angry employees. The managers themselves, of course, are not immune to the toxic effect of working in an angry and stressed environment and they are also at risk for the negative business outcomes listed above.

The most direct and durable way to disrupt this cycle of dysfunction is to teach managers, and hold them accountable for, the skill set required to help employees succeed. This means replacing ineffective and coercive “do what you are paid to do” management attitudes and practices with the more reciprocal and optimistic “let’s figure out how we can make you more successful” attitude of a coach/mentor.

Coach/mentors outperform coercive managers because they are focused on how work gets done as well as getting it done. They don’t wear down their people and then complain and act surprised that people are stressed and angry and less productive. Instead, they know how to bring out the best in their employees and build them up.

Let’s take the long view and evaluate managers not only by how much work their group gets done but also by whether their employees are feeling successful and motivated. Let’s make the training investments required to replace outmoded “command and control” management practices with a style which incorporates the wealth of information and research we have about the science of human motivation and behavior.

The organizations that make these investments will be the winners in the workplace of the future and avoid the numerous and costly consequences of producing an oversupply of angry and stressed employees.