Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-Life Imbalance

What are the sources of stress and work-life imbalance? According to Saratoga Institute’s survey, they include:

  1. Doing more with less
    “The company asks us to do more work with less resources, and in less time.”
    “The company doesn’t employ enough staff.”
  2. Abuse/Harassment/Insensitivity
    “My company deals either ignores cases of harassment or deals with them very poorly.”
  3. Sacrificing family/Personal Life
    “I don’t get enough time to spend with my family.”
    “My company can’t seem to realize that there is ‘life’ outside of work.”
  4. Inflexibility of work hours
    “I can never work when I want to, and my manager shoots down all my requests for flex-time.”
  5. Impact on customers
    “The company expects employees to increase production while failing to realize that increased production may lead to unsatisfied customers.”
  6. No fun
    “It’s all work all the time at my company.”
  7. Inadequate benefits
    “I have to wait 5 years to get more than 2 weeks of vacation.”
    “Sick days are held against us in our raises.”
    “I had to fight my company to get them to pay my cancer payments.”

How big of a problem is stress?

It’s big, according to a 2013 survey by APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. More than 33 % of working Americans reported experiencing chronic work stress and just 36 % said their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage that stress.

What is causing it?

The American Psychological Association (APA) outlines some common sources[1]:

  • Low salaries.
  • Excessive workloads.
  • Few opportunities for growth or advancement.
  • Work that isn’t engaging or challenging.
  • Lack of social support.
  • Not having enough control over job-related decisions.
  • Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.

I would also add that not having one (or many) of our fundamental needs met is a significant contributor to stress.

Why addressing stress and work-life imbalance is a smart move

Combating the causes/effects of stress and work-life imbalance is not just good for your employees, it’s good for your business.

In fact, experts have shown how exactly company success is linked to the internal quality of work life, as seen here[2] (qtd. in Branham 155):

In his research, Branham noticed that many of the companies rated as the ‘best places to work’ all share one thing in common: a philosophy of “give-first”, get second”.

In other words, by giving generously to their employees (e.g. by being trustworthy, communicating often, providing recognition, providing competitive pay and benefits, giving feedback, granting ownership, separating work and life, etc.) these employers believe it will motivate the employees to be generous in giving back to them (e.g. in commitment, trustworthiness/honesty, communication, productivity, etc.).

Instead of treating your employees as means to an end (i.e. merely tools to achieve business success), this approach suggests treating them as ‘ends-in-themselves’, as philosopher Immanuel Kant has famously stated.

Actionable tips for employers (Branham 160-174)

To Reduce Stress from Work-Life Imbalance and Overwork

Initiate a culture of “giving-before-getting”.

Make the first move in maintaining employee loyalty. If you demonstrate an initial willingness to trust your employees by giving valued services, they are likely to reciprocate in kind.

Tailor the ‘‘culture of giving’’ to the needs of key talent.

Match your benefits and work-life services to the needs of your people. To do this you need to understand the needs of your workforce; so, ask your employees. Design your benefits, perks, employee services, rewards, cultures, and management practices to attract and keep the specific desires of the talent segments you need to meet your business objectives.

Build a culture that values spontaneous acts of caring.

Here are some ideas for spontaneous act of caring:

  • Letting the team go out for a long lunch at the manager’s expense on the condition that they not talk about work
  • Sending cards, free movie tickets, or restaurant gift certificates to the homes of employees who worked long hours to complete a project
  • Bringing meals to the homes of workers who are grieving the death of a family member
  • Creating a Thursday ritual—free pizza in the office
  • Giving an employee the rest of the day off after a particularly stressful morning
  • Allowing employees to work from home when it isn’t essential that they be at the workplace
  • Pitching in to help with the workload on especially busy days
  • Stopping communicating by e-mail, having real conversations with employees, and concentrating on listening with genuine interest

Build social connectedness and cohesion among employees.

Without a doubt, the relationships that are formed at work are a big reason why people stay at their job. As a manager, you have the ability to foster healthy relationship-making and team bonding amongst your staff. Here are some suggestions:

  • Give employees opportunities to have personal conversations
  • Assign teams to work on projects together when possible, and try to connect employees who haven’t yet worked together
  • Create cross-functional teams, mixing staff from various departments
  • Invite other people from other departments to your staff meetings
  • Organize group outings
  • Encourage employees to speak face-to-face as opposed to e-mail
  • Whenever an employee seems to be stuck at a task, ask other staff to help out
  • Get to know your employees on a personal basis well enough so that you can link them with others with common interests, or to refer them whenever a practical issue comes up

Encourage fun in the workplace.

There are so many ideas for ‘fun’ in the workplace; I suggest asking your employees for ideas!

Actionable tips for employees (Branham 175-176)

  • Understand the basic truth that each of us has the freedom to choose how we respond to stressful events. Train yourself to become more conscious of, and accountable for, making those choices.
  • Eat breakfast daily, drink less coffee and caffeinated soft drinks, and start eating more healthy foods and, if overweight, in smaller portions.
  • Organize the work to be done the day before. Sort your in-basket according to priority and work on high-priority items first.
  • Establish set times in the day to review e-mail and voicemail.
  • Let go of the need for perfection.
  • Take all the vacation you have coming. Reserve those days on your calendar as far in advance as possible.
  • Don’t bring work home with you every night. Instead, stay later or go in earlier occasionally.
  • Let voicemail answer when you are extra busy and don’t need the distraction.
  • Block out your calendar ahead of time to make sure you will have the uninterrupted time you need to finish a large project to complete several smaller tasks.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask coworkers for help when you are trying to handle peak workloads.
  • Take breaks to clear your mind and relax for a few minutes at a time.
  • Go outside for fresh air if you can.
  • Take lunch out of the office whenever you can, or just go for a lunchtime walk.
  • Delegate more.
  • Create a morning ritual—either quiet meditation or reading time— that can help set the time for the entire day.
  • Block out your calendar days before it starts to fill up to assure that you have the time needed between appointments or to work on important projects uninterrupted.
  • Take a two-day getaway break to do what restores and energizes you—and not just on the weekends.
  • Exercise every day, if possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for flex-time, part-time work, job-sharing, or other family-friendly conditions if it can help to make your life less complicated and stressful.
  • Seek more sources of gratification besides your job—pursue a new hobby (or an old one), spend more time with friends and family, take more vacation days, travel more often, treat yourself to a massage, go for a drive to no place in particular—whatever works to give you more balance.
  • If you are in the wrong job or working for a manager who cranks up your stress levels, create a plan to change your situation and start working it today.
  • Get enough sleep.


Branham, Leigh. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act before Its Too Late. AMACOM, 2012.

[1] “Coping With Stress at Work.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association,

[2] James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Leonard A. Schlesinger, The Service-Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value (New York: Free Press, 1997).

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