54024872_SIt’s estimated that on-the-job stress costs U.S. companies more than $300 billion annually in increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased health care costs and employee turnover. Stress, however, is a very individualized phenomenon — what causes stress in one person may not cause stress in another. The good news is that research has identified a number of stressors that often affect large groups of employees — and the ways employers can help address them.

Surveys show that probably the biggest source of stress for workers is balancing work and family demands. That’s why telecommuting and flextime are sought-after options for a growing number of workers nationwide. Studies show allowing workers the option of working just one day of each week at home can dramatically reduce their stress levels. Telecommuting isn’t the only answer, however. Ask your employees how you can help them meet the demands of work and family life. A bit of flexibility in how they get their job done can make all the difference.

Some other ways to reduce stress at the office:

Let the sick stay home. At many companies, it’s a badge of honor to go into work sick. Leaders often set the example by doing it themselves. Create a culture where people do not feel guilty staying home when they are ill. Even more important, encourage your employees to take all of their vacation days each year. One study showed that 52 percent of American workers did not use all of their allotted vacation time last year.

Create an after-hours work policy. Another big stressor? After-hours e-mails. Studies show that many employees feel like they have to answer e-mails and solve client problems after-hours. Simply put, it is stressing workers out. France even passed a law addressing the issue.

Be a good communicator. When was the last time you simply talked with your employees about the changes happening in your company? Sometimes not knowing what is happening or why changes are being made can affect stress levels. It doesn’t mean your employees need to know the sensitive information; but basic information can calm their nerves.

Offer food. Do you order in food for your employees occasionally? How about breakfast during a morning meeting and offering some bagels, fruit, yogurt and coffee? Need to have a training meeting? How about incorporating it over the lunch hour and have lunch catered? It’s a proven way to raise morale at the office.

Have a sense of humor. Humor can be a powerful tool for relieving stress. Share a laugh with your employees. It’s a great way to help diffuse a stressful situation.

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