Stress is contagious--and it's killing your employees' productivity and career satisfaction. But it doesn't have to.

More than half of the global workforce admits being closer to burn out than just five years ago, according to a study by Regus Group, which surveyed over 22,000 business men and women across 100 countries.

As a leader, it might not seem like your job to manage your employees' stress levels. And while it's technically not, the benefits of putting it on your to-do list are vast: a happier workforce tends to be more productive and better equipped to do their jobs. That translates to happier clients and return business for you.  

What's more, the biggest culprit contributing to your employees' stress may actually be you, says Rich Fernandez, the co-founder of learning and development company Wisdom Labs. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, he writes about how leaders can manage employee stress by ridding your company of its 24/7 work environment.

Here are four ways to curb that 'always on' culture and give your employees a much needed breather.

1. Discourage working off-hours.

If your culture encourages employees to work around the clock and constantly reply to emails after work and throughout the weekend, your employees will burn out. They need time to recover from the work day and need the weekend to recover from the week. A 2011 article in the McKinsey Quarterly points out that this kind of "always-on, multitasking work environments" have long been considered productivity killers. They also dampen creativity and make people unhappy. Fernandez says you need to give your employees time to disconnect from work and recover. To accomplish this, set some boundaries. Establish (and follow) rules like no email after 8 p.m. during the week and no email over the weekend.

2. Kill your multitasking culture.

Everyone juggles work and life, but the most effective way to get things done is to focus on one thing at a time. "Multitasking is a myth," Fernandez writes. "Humans are not effective or efficient parallel processors (computers are)." Similarly, JoAnn Deak, a neuroscientist and author, says that multitasking balloons the time it takes to accomplish each task and increases the number of mistakes and raises stress levels. Deak suggests you should encourage 'serial monotasking' instead. Help employees to prioritize assignments and focus on one thing at a time.

3. Encourage 'buffer time.'

Do not confuse busyness with efficiency and do not confuse the number of hours employees are at the office with productivity. "It's not the number of hours people work that matters, it's the value they produce during the hours they work," Fernandez writes. Just because an employee takes lunch breaks and isn't chained to her desk doesn't mean she is slacking off. Employees need buffer time between assignments to recharge and focus, he says.

4. Show compassion and empathy.

"It doesn't cost anything to be kind, and the benefits for managers are great," Fernandez writes. Indeed, according to a 2012 study from the University of New South Wales, the most productive employees and profitable companies have leaders who make an effort "to understand people's motivators, hopes, and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be." The study found a correlation between compassionate leaders and highly productive employees. "Empathy and compassion are good for people and good for business," Fernandez writes.

Published on: Jan 25, 2016