An HR Leader’s Guide For Minimizing Stress

Can An HR Leader [really] Help To Minimize Employee Stress?

In today’s highly competitive business world, the critical need to satisfy the customer has resulted in two major business drivers that directly affect almost all employees – innovation is all aspects of the business and increased productivity to do more with less. The implementation of these business drivers typically creates a better value proposition for the customer, and improved profitability and strategic growth for the company. However, this business reality is complicated by the natural phenomena of many employees to resist any change, especially the major ones. Therefore, it is apparent that the business necessity of more and more innovation and increased productivity will only increase in the years ahead while it creates a double-edged sword for the company and HR because it oftentimes can lead to an unfortunate but very real by-product – employee stress. This, in turn, means that the stress-related aftereffects of stress on the employees will also increase. In fact, a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson indicated that stress was the top health risk in 78% of the companies surveyed.

The HR function in any company that emphasizes innovation and increased productivity, especially those in which both items represent an integral part of the company culture and marketplace reputation, must be able to effectively deal with the aftereffects of stress, which many times is represented by the burned-out employee. The obvious goal here is to prevent such an occurrence from happening in the first place. However, many times this employee is typically a high achiever in a critical job in a critical department who is on a multi-functional/multi-divisional high profile team that is responsible for achieving critically important business and financial results. Also, how each individual stress-related case is managed by the employee’s manager and HR will be magnified many times over throughout the company – good, bad or indifferent.

Before proceeding, it is important to note that stress has several important and positive aspects for the employee and the company. A certain amount of stress can help the employee to recognize a heightened level of importance in his/her work while improving mental agility and concentration. This, in turn, can greatly improve employee work performance, job satisfaction, and upward potential. In short, we want their work to be seen as important and challenging, but not overwhelming.

Clearly, it is impossible for any HR Leader to prevent employees from becoming stressed-out in their jobs. However, an HR Leader can strive to minimize the frequency and severity of stress-related occurrences in the company by implementing various policies, practices, and programs. Hopefully, this article will provide a practical guide in this regard by examining several proactive policies, programs, and practices that will allow the affected employees to better help themselves.


For each stress-related position, a particularized interviewing and selection process should be followed. Initially, HR should identify the stress-related positions, by job title, based on an analysis of the number of cases over the past two or three years where stress has occurred. With legal counsel advice, a confidential study can be implemented by the company’s appropriate vendor on medical insurance, workers compensation, short and long disability, and employee assistance program records. If possible, it should be noted whether the employee’s case was as a member of a team or simply performing normal job duties.

After the specific positions are identified that have the potential of being stress-related, the particularized interviewing and selection process should be utilized for any external and/or internal applicants being considered for them.

The first step is to prepare several stress-related questions that directly relate to the applicant’s past job duties and accomplishments which would be designed to elicit his or her personal reactions and responses to various relevant, stress-related job situations. Of particular concern should be what methods or techniques the applicant used to help avoid and deal with the stress while achieving the major job duties and accomplishments in each relevant position. Also, the use of company-validated behavioral interview questions and their associated preferable responses would be especially helpful to determine if the applicant knows how to properly deal with any job-related stressful situation.

The second step involves using an interviewing process that has the applicants being interviewed by at least two department managers, including the hiring manager, AND two other managers who work in departments that interact with the open position. The department managers would emphasize the evaluation of the applicant’s ability to meet all of the qualifications for the position, while the other managers can concentrate on the particular stress-related qualifications.

The third step is to apply the applicant’s responses to the stress-related behavioral questions, along with a detailed analysis of his/her past technical job knowledge and accomplishments from the twofold perspective of the actual achievements themselves and how he/she dealt with the associated stress.

The fourth step is to evaluate each applicant’s skills and abilities in relation to all job qualifications in a weighted selection matrix. Here is an example for a Senior Electrical Engineer position that requires five years of relevant design experience.

In this example, using an evaluation rating scale of 1 through 5, an applicant’s ”excellent” rating of 4 on stress-related past accomplishments would be calculated as 4 x .15 = .6. Utilizing such a matrix gives the manager the ability to evaluate and rate each qualification, and all the qualifications within each segment, while providing an overall evaluative rating.


The following items should be emphasized during the onboarding process.

  1. The employees in the stress-related positions should be given the highest priority.
  2. HR should emphasize all the stress-related benefits and, most importantly, the various types of available assistance and information since most stressed-out employees will likely want to keep this matter private at the outset without anyone else’s knowledge.
  3. During the 30/60/120 day job review sessions with the employee, supervisors and HR staff should be particularly sensitive to any employee actions, comments or problems that suggest any form of stress.
  4. Continually reinforce the thought with the supervisors and managers of stress-related positions that they should always be sensitive to any employee who may be exhibiting signs of stress and utilize any job skills retraining that might help alleviate the problem.

Jack Bucalo
Jack Bucalo
JACK has led the Global HR function for a Fortune 500 and 1000 international company and several other large international companies. With four years of line experience complementing his HR experience, he believes that the CHRO or HR Leader should play a more direct role in helping the CEO to achieve the company's business objectives and strategic goals, while effectively implementing its administrative duties. In doing so successfully, the CHRO or HR Leader can become an equal business partner with his/her line management peers while becoming more directly involved in the company's operational mainstream, rather than being just an administrative afterthought. As a pragmatic practitioner, Jack publishes detailed and actionable articles on a wide variety on critically-important HR issues on BIZCATALYST 360°. He is also on the advisory board for other web sites. Jack's over 20 years of executive-level HR experience for which he was responsible for company, executive and Board-related matters, form the basis for most of viewpoints.


  1. I really appreciate the proactive approach you took to illustrate the importance of how stress impacts our workforce Jack. While we can look forward to expecting some degree of maturity in those who work for us, we also must realize that they are human. We all are. None of us are exempt to the aftermath of stress…. and preventative maintenance, coupled by a supportive system is key.

    Two thumbs up Jack, two thumbs up!



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