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Tough times = stressed-out staff: 10 tips to ease their pain

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

A brutal economy … layoffs … pay cuts. These are trying times to be a U.S. worker, and not all are handling it well.

Nearly half of U.S. workers say they feel stressed out, compared with 39% in other countries, according to a Robert Half International survey. They say they’re sad, worried, distracted, burned out and running low on morale.

Those kinds of feelings can crush your organization’s productivity, and they’ll spread like wildfire if you don’t try to contain them.

Here are 10 ways to deal with recession-induced employee stress:

1. Watch your words

Don’t ignore symptoms of depression, anxiety, illness or drug and alcohol abuse that affect performance. Do approach the subject carefully. Managers can offer help for problems that occur at work, but can’t broach issues that occur away from the business.

Best bet: Acknowledge that the employee seems to be struggling, and remind him or her that the company offers a confidential employee assistance program (EAP). Regularly publicize the EAP to all employees—and update your message so it’s relevant during these economic hard times.

2. Check your priorities

If your team is leaner than before, everyone is working harder. Eventually, that will diminish your organization’s effectiveness. Rebalance assignments to prevent overwork and focus team members on the most critical projects. Postpone tasks that aren’t top priority until you’re able to bring in more help.

3. Nip depression early

Employees who take disability leave because of depression have 44% more lost time than those who take it for other reasons, according to the Integrated Benefits Institute.

Advice: Pump up communication about your EAP so all employees know how to get help for depression.

4. Monitor the rumor mill

Forty-two percent of workers say they are afraid of layoffs, a CareerBuilder survey reveals. Often, those fears are based on gossip and speculation rather than actual plans. Yet without real information, perception is reality.

The key: Address employees with monthly town hall meetings and snuff out rumors as soon as they surface.

5. Allow telework

Employees who take over the work of laid-off colleagues often put in more hours than before. Allowing them to work from home a couple of days a week eliminates the commute and can shorten the workday by an hour or two.

6. Offer financial advice

One-third of employees surveyed by the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation reported that money woes have at times made them so upset they couldn’t perform well at work. Plus financially unhealthy employees are more likely to smoke, eat unhealthy food, be overweight and skip exercise.

Employer-sponsored access to financial counselors and education can help them get their minds back on the job.

7. Don’t shrug off ‘thank you’ and ‘good job’

With raises and bonuses scarce, employees that use monetary rewards to gauge their value to the company have lost their touchstone. Remind employees frequently that they are valued despite your organization’s cost cutting.

Reward good work with small gifts, public recognition and personal thank-yous from execs.

8. Rearrange the furniture

After a layoff, an empty cubicle is a daily reminder that someone has lost a job. If cutbacks have emptied workstations, reconfigure the space or reassign the cubicles so all seats are filled.

9. Teach coping skills

“Effectively coping with stress is a skill, just like playing golf,” says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo. “Some people are naturals, while most of us need training.”

Arrange for a brown-bag lunch with a counselor or social worker who can teach employees how to better deal with economic stresses like money woes, time constraints, work demands and uncertainty.

10. Hold Gen Y’s hand

Employees age 50 or older feel more insecure about their jobs than those in their 20s, says a Bankrate survey. But a separate report says that those seasoned workers are actually more likely to remain productive than their younger colleagues. That’s because older employees have lived through economic ups and downs before, so they’re more resilient.

Tip: Reach out to young employees with advice and assurance via blogs on your organization’s intranet or through regular e-mails.

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