Workplace Stress: An Endemic in the Post-Pandemic World

In the post-pandemic landscape, the most common cause of stress is work-related stress with 79% saying they frequently felt it (Statistica). Work-related stress, anxiety and depression contribute to 50% of all work-related ill-health cases according to the most recent Labour Force Survey. Notably, these challenges disproportionately affect female workers and those working in medium and large businesses. 13.7 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of work-related stress, anxiety and depression, costing £28.3 billion yearly (NICE).

The root causes of work-related stress include workload, tight deadlines, excessive responsibilities, and a lack of managerial support. They increase presenteeism (being at work and not being productive), absenteeism (not being at work), workplace conflict, errors, and increased staff turnover, whilst decreasing psychological safety, productivity, and profits.

Workplace stress both compounds, and is compounded by, toxic workplace culture. Research findings* indicate that employees are more than 10 times more likely to leave their jobs due to a toxic workplace culture than dissatisfaction with wages, and it is, by far, the single largest predictor of employee turnover. Even the healthiest workplace cultures have ‘pockets of toxicity’ which are highly correlated with the leadership of the microculture. 

*Sull, D., Sull, C., and Zweig, B. (2022). Toxic Culture is Driving the Great Resignation, MIT Sloan Management Review, Cambridge Vol. 63, Issue. 2, p1-9.

Managing Conflict is a Key Tool in Mitigating Workplace Stress

Navigating heavy workloads, tight deadlines, excessive responsibilities, and a lack of managerial support in the workplace is inherently stressful. Expressing concerns, dissatisfaction, or negotiating for more realistic workloads can be equally stressful when there’s a fear of conflict with managers or colleagues.

Avoiding workplace issues means that employees do not get the support they need, and unreasonable managerial decisions go unchallenged. Employees start to feel powerless or dissatisfied with their work conditions and their job satisfaction declines. Lower job satisfaction and increased stress lead to decreased productivity as employees struggle to stay focused and motivated. This increases the need to take time off to re-balance, and ultimately drives employees to seek alternative employment, leading to higher turnover rates. 

Ongoing workplace issues may escalate to the point when a formal complaint is made, which triggers an investigation. These are conducted to gather facts, assess the validity of the complaint, and determine if any policies or laws have been violated. They can significantly impact morale, team dynamics, and the overall work environment. Addressing workplace issues constructively is key to creating a healthier work environment and the core of conflict resolution. By acknowledging the interests and needs of all parties involved, conflict resolution seeks to strike a balance that benefits employees, managers and the organisation as a whole.

The Importance of Prioritising Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

The ability to speak up and say difficult things is a critical factor in establishing and maintaining psychological safety in the workplace. Being able to express concerns or disagreements, without fearing negative consequences, leads to constructive discussions and resolutions that contribute to a healthier team dynamic. 

Happy and effective workers make for healthy and productive workforces, and so it is important that we find ways to reduce workplace stress and improve the wellbeing of individual employers, managers, and employees. This not only improves their performance and job satisfaction, so workers want to stay in their jobs, but it also promotes healthy workplace behaviours and cultures, as well as thriving businesses.

Fostering a workplace culture that encourages open communication, constructive feedback, and conflict resolution skills is crucial. By providing employees with the tools and support to address concerns, organisations can mitigate workplace stress. Conflict resolution in the workplace is not just about addressing disputes; it’s about creating a culture that recognises how employee satisfaction drives business success