Do you or your employees and co-workers think “Oh no, I have to go to work tomorrow!”?

Do you find yourself thinking about the upcoming workday and start rapidly becoming filled with a sense of impending doom? Are you stressing about your seemingly endless to-do list? Feeling anxious? Contemplating calling in sick?

Feeling that pit in the bottom of our stomach on Sunday evening may be somewhat the norm these days. Having a panic attack about going in to work is not. If you, your co-workers or your employees suffer from some of the symptoms listed above it doesn’t necessarily mean you are disengaged. It could be a major sign that you are suffering from job stress.

According to statistics from an organization specializing in Employee Engagement (HR Solutions’ National Normative Database, comprised of 3.3 million employees from 2,400 organizations), stress in the workplace has been on the rise since 2009. In 2009, only 60 percent of employees believed they suffered from job stress, compared to 66 percent of employees in 2010. Results for the past year are expected to climb even higher, perhaps to 70% or more. This is TOO high!

There’s no doubt the recent economic downturn we experienced has earned the blame for the increase in job-related stress. SO many organizations are short-staffed and employees are constantly being asked to do more with less. Not to mention the all too common fear they have about losing their job. Clearly, this ongoing stress takes an enormous toll on employees, their family life and their productivity.

Stress can have a detrimentally negative impact on one’s physical and mental health. Stress can show up as a) high blood pressure, b) suppression of the immune system, c) an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, and d) increases in one’s body weight. Mentally, stress can lead to anxiety and depression.

Obviously, stress has a potentially huge negative impact on Employee Engagement levels in the workplace. Even the best of employees can quickly go from Actively Engaged to Ambivalent to Disengaged after suffering from ongoing job stress. This drop in Engagement levels can lead to decreased productivity, decreased profitability, increased absenteeism, and ultimately an increase in turnover.

What Can Organizations Do to Effectively Manage Stress?

Several best practices that managers and leadership teams can follow to help reduce stress levels in the workplace are as follows:

– Regularly meet with employees to make sure their workloads are manageable. These meetings will help employees feel comfortable talking about stress and seeking help when over-stressed. When possible, attempt to rearrange responsibilities among the team.

– Managers have a tendency to rely too heavily on their star players. Make sure that responsibilities are spread evenly throughout the team as much as possible, not just on the backs of the “stars”.

– Encourage and create wellness programs and awarenessExercising has been proven again and again to actually reduce stress levels. It relaxes muscles and triggers the release of endorphins. It increases our sense of well-being. Improves and clarifies our thinking and ability to prioritize. And can even impact our confidence levels! NO, we do not all have to run a marathon, compete in the Iron Man, climb a mountain. BUT……find something you enjoy that increases your heart rate, burns calories and gets you moving. Push yourself at first without hurting yourself. You will begin to see and feel the benefits.

– Create MORE Fun in the workplace! Studies have shown that laughter relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, and speeds the flow of oxygen through the body, which ultimately reduce stress levels. In addition, both smiling and laughing release endorphins into the brain. Offering fun activities at work can help employees see both of these benefits.

Managing stress is not just up to the managers and leaders. YOU need to take the initiative to address it. The person that knows you best should be you. Take control of your own health. And in turn, hopefully encourage your leaders to do the same. And one final, VERY personal opinion I’d like to share. TAKE YOUR VACATION TIME. Use it for a REAL vacation. Encourage a culture, much like has existed overseas in other countries for years, to get away, disconnect, have some FUN and RECHARGE. One of my former bosses pushed me hard and often seemed like a taskmaster but….when it was time for vacation he said “Dave, when you go on vacation GO on vacation. Don’t call in. Have fun. Use all of it each year. And then come back recharged and ready to go.” Thanks, Mike M. Good advice.