How to Spot Employee Stress Sooner

Employees today are exposed to more stressors than ever before. Here’s how you can see when they’re struggling and help to fix things.

Written by Elizabeth Harz
Published on Apr. 19, 2023
How to Spot Employee Stress Sooner
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Two decades ago, tech companies like Google and Apple revolutionized the workplace with amenities including free yoga classes, well-stocked lounges and meditation rooms. Designed to destress workers and keep them more productive at work, these utopian office spaces were expensive and attractive. 

These desirable environments set the stage for other companies to offer more perks and team-building events to make their own offices happier places to work. 

But what happens when a huge number of people start working from home and the office is no longer the hub that it once was? For many organizations, having people work at home makes creating a positive culture harder, along with spotting issues that employees might be dealing with. Stress can creep in and affect employee morale, decrease productivity and increase turnover and risk.

Creating a process to spot stress early and deal with it before it becomes entrenched is key to a healthy hybrid work environment.

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The New Work Environment Is Stressful

The ongoing effects of the pandemic, geopolitical strife, climate change — people have a lot of existential threats to be worried about today. Add on the down economy, regular headlines reporting layoffs and the isolation that comes from working at home, and it’s no surprise that stress is on the rise. 

MetLife found in 2022 that 72 percent of employers believed that employee stress and burnout were problems for their organizations. A major change like working from home through a pandemic can take years for a society to completely process. People might initially be glad that they can trade suits for PJs and reduce their commuting miles, but the truth is, working alone isn’t always good for mental health. 

Though some people with a busy home life might take working from home in stride, many others might not do as well. One study showed that 81 percent of people under 35 feared that they would be lonely due to working from home, and younger workers in particular are suffering from anxiety since the pandemic. 

Some companies have used these statistics to justify policies that bring people back into the office, including Apple. But in many cases, enough people are going to want to stay at home that office life has forever changed. Even if folks are working in an office, it’s likely a much smaller group there every day. Plenty of people report that, even when they’re in the office, they eat lunch alone or don’t talk to anyone all day. 


Rethinking Employee Monitoring

For any company with a distributed workforce, the extra burden of keeping everyone happy is a heavy one. Managers need to schedule more regular check-ins, HR teams take on more calls with stressed workers and productivity can suffer. 

One solution is to use employee monitoring in an entirely new way. Since the start of the pandemic, global demand for employee monitoring software increased 66 percent. Many companies implemented monitoring because they were trying to determine if at-home workers were unproductive during the pandemic — or worse, posing a threat to the company.

Although monitoring employee behavior can make sure people do what they’re supposed to do at work, when misused, it actually can create distrust and serve to demotivate a workforce.

Gartner writes about how a more positive approach exists wherein employee productivity is seen through a wider lens that includes employee happiness, health and work process and culture. Enter workforce behavior analytics, a more holistic approach to software-based workforce management. Workforce behavior analytics uses machine learning to spot subtle changes in behavior and activity. For example, more negative language could be an early sign of quitting. They can also send a manager an alert when people are spending a lot of time stuck doing a particular task, which could help a manager spot opportunities to improve processes. This type of analysis creates an opportunity for leaders to be more proactive rather than reactive.

Using software to understand how stressed employees are is a perfect example of how this new approach works. Companies don’t want their workforce to be stressed. It creates a negative work environment, increases turnover and other costs of management, and increases risk to the company. The sooner managers can see signs that there’s a problem, the sooner they can have a conversation and start working on a solution.

With work-from-home, many best practices like taking regular breaks and creating boundaries between work and home-life have eroded. Spotting the signs of stress early can help companies reach out to individuals and start a conversation that could lead to a solution.  

Workforce behavior analytics can identify a number of things.

Benefits of Workforce Behavior Analytics

  • Signs of people who are working too much or working at odd hours. 
  • Patterns of people who seem stuck in a specific process for long periods of the day. 
  • Analyze language used in emails to see if employees are more stressed by specific topics or coworkers.
  • See patterns changing over time, such as reduced productivity

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Bring Your Employees With You

Unlike sneaky “employee monitoring” implementation designed to catch bad apples, the healthy approach is to collaborate with the entire workforce to use analytics as a solution for overall improvement. If employees know that software is being used to help them be successful, they’ll be more receptive. Using clear examples and creating transparent policies will increase trust and serve as a destressor on its own.

The shift to hybrid work is still in its early days, and employees will have to live through each step like guinea pigs in an experiment. Good organizations will recognize the need for insights and analytics that help smooth the road along the way, and will work to use software to create a win-win for employees and employers.

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