How to reduce the Impact of Stress and Remote Work on Individual Performance at Work

Stress levels among employees have increased since the Covid era.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 report, although the world has recovered from the worst of the pandemic, employee stress remained at a record-high level.

What is stressing out employees?

Gallup records stress based on responses to the question “Did you experience stress a lot of the day yesterday?” In the latest results, forty-four percent of employees said they experienced a lot of stress the previous day, repeating the record high in 2021 and continuing a trend of elevated stress that began almost a decade earlier.

Let’s keep in mind that work is not the sole culprit of stress. Everyday-life factors like inflation, family and health issues can also be sources of daily stress.

While leaders and managers can’t influence external sources of stress, they can make a difference in overall stress in workers’ lives. One of the keys is ‘engagement’.

The engagement metric:

Involvement and enthusiasm of employees in both their work and workplace is what defines their engagement. The Gallup analysis finds that when employees are engaged at work, they report significantly lower stress in their lives.

Twenty-three percent of the world’s employees were “engaged” at work in 2022, the highest level since Gallup began measuring global engagement in 2009 . (Engagement declined in mid pandemic but has now returned to its historically positive trend.)

Increasing engagement is good news for employees, because it implies they are thriving at work and finding their daily work more rewarding.

“Engaged employees find their work meaningful and feel connected to the team and their organization. They feel proud of the work they do and take ownership of their performance, going the extra mile for teammates and customers.” Gallup

When individuals are not engaged:

Gallup describes the other, less desirable states of work in two categories;

  1. Not engaged – (quiet quitters): These employees are filling a seat and watching the clock. They put in the minimum effort required, and they are psychologically disconnected from their employer. Although they are minimally productive, they are more likely to be stressed and burnt out than engaged workers because they feel lost and disconnected from their workplace.
  2. Actively disengaged – (loud quitters): These employees take actions that directly harm the organization, undercutting its goals and opposing its leaders. At some point along the way, the trust between employee and employer was severely broken. Or the employee has been woefully mismatched to a role, causing constant crises.

Leadership and management directly influence workplace engagement, and there is much that organizations can do to help their employees thrive at work.

The link between engagement and stress

Actively disengaged workers tend to experience significantly higher stress levels compared to engaged employees. While this correlation varies across countries, the percentage of workers who felt a lot of stress the previous day was about twice as much for those who were actively disengaged as engaged workers.

Notably, remote and hybrid workers, despite reporting higher engagement, are more likely to experience high levels of stress than their fully onsite counterparts. This indicates that stress among remote and hybrid employees may be attributed to factors beyond the work environment.

How to energise the ‘quiet quitters’

Quiet quitting employees are an organisation’s easy fix for productivity gains. They are ready to be inspired and motivated. This can be achieved through regular town halls, internal coaching, leadership teams and more of the regular process of employee motivation.

Eighty-five percent of the responses offered by those considered to be quieting quitting fell into three broad categories;

  • Culture & communication 41%
  • Pay & benefits 28%
  • Wellbeing 16%

Managers are usually confined to operate within their company guidelines when it comes to pay and benefits so their direct influence in this area is difficult. Likewise they may face company restrictions around the area of wellbeing as this encompasses issues such as the office/remote work balance, longer breaks, establishing a health clinic etc.

But culture and communication are arguably the lowest of the easy access topics for managers to tackle. Here’s what the Gallup survey responses answered to the question; ‘What would you change about your workplace to make it better?’

  • For everyone to get recognised for their contributions
  • I would like it if the managers were more approachable, and we could talk openly
  • They should grant more autonomy in the work to stimulate everyone’s creativity
  • I would like to learn more things, but the work I do is quite repetitive
  • I just wish they respected me more
  • Giving everyone a fair chance in getting promoted
  • Clearer goals and stronger guidance
Engagement vs remote work

Gallup’s findings indicate that employee engagement has a more significant influence on reducing stress levels than the physical location of work. This highlights the responsibility of management in creating a positive work environment. Managers should prioritise strengths-based meaningful conversations, ensuring regular communication and support for each team member. Remote work can sometimes lead to employees feeling distant from their employers, which may increase the likelihood of seeking alternative opportunities.

What are you going to do about it?

All that said there is an implication that if we change everything that’s in the list written by the Gallup survey we would get an improvement in the statistics of quiet quitting. Personally I think this is a fallacy. Firstly, if you go to an ant nest you’ll find 10% of all the ants doing nothing. I’m not suggesting that all people are ants but I can suggest to you that if you get a group of people in a room there will be those who are at the bottom of the pecking order and will do as little as possible no matter what you do.

I you’ll see that an individual has two sides to their personality. They have their Homelife and they have their work life. Implication of this recommendations for fixing cultures implies that people have their act together at home and none of their Homelife is intruding to make these topics more critical in their work life. For example an individual who wants more autonomy probably has very little of it at home. A person who wants more respect at work may not be getting enough respect at home. Giving everybody a fair chance at getting promoted might be caused by an individual having to greater privilege or entitlement based on the lack of it at home.

At Innerwealth we believe that the approach to quiet quitting is to address the factors that are at the cause of the problem rather than blame the culture. We believe that quiet quitters 50% of the time have some personal issues that need to be helped and coached to enable them to actually turn up at work in the first place.

Giving individuals an opportunity to be personally coached therefore enables them to deal with whatever is going on in their life balance so that they don’t blame the business all their boss for their lack of engagement or get angry and turn their quiet quitting into loud quitting.

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