Is stress affecting your insurance business?

31844004_MIn the insurance business, there are a lot of things you don’t have control over — market conditions, what your competitors are doing and the economy, for example. But you do have control over what type of working environment you can offer your agency’s employees.

It’s estimated that work-related stress costs U.S. companies more than $300 billion annually in increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased health care costs and employee turnover. But figuring out what is stressing out your employees can be difficult. Everyone has different stressors and handles pressure differently. The good news is that research has identified a number of stressors that often affect large groups of employees — and the ways employers can help address them.

Surveys show that probably the biggest source of stress for workers is balancing work and family demands. That’s why telecommuting and flextime are sought-after options for a growing number of workers nationwide. Studies show allowing workers the option of working just one day of each week at home or offering some degree of flexibility in their working schedule can dramatically reduce their stress levels. Telecommuting isn’t always a viable option, but it’s not the only possible solution. Ask your employees how you can help them better meet the demands of work and family life. A bit of flexibility in how they get their jobs done can make all the difference.

Some other ways to reduce stress at the office:

Let the sick stay home. At many companies, it’s a badge of honor to go into work sick. Leaders often set the example by doing it themselves. Create a culture where people do not feel guilty staying home when they are ill. Even more important, encourage your employees to take all of their vacation days each year. One study showed that 52 percent of American workers did not use all of their allotted vacation time last year. The research is clear: All work and no vacation time leads to burned-out employees who are less engaged, enthusiastic and productive.

Create an after-hours work policy. Another big stressor? After-hours e-mails. Studies show that many employees feel like they have to answer e-mails, answer the phone and solve client problems after-hours and on weekends. Simply put, it is stressing workers out.

Be a good communicator. When was the last time you simply talked with your employees about the changes happening in your agency? Sometimes not knowing what is happening or why changes are being made can affect stress levels. It doesn’t mean your employees need to know sensitive information, but basic information can calm their nerves.

Offer food. Do you order in food for your employees occasionally? How about breakfast during a morning meeting and offering some bagels, fruit, yogurt and coffee? Need to have a training meeting? How about incorporating it over the lunch hour and have lunch catered? Food: It’s a proven way to raise morale at the office, as long as there’s something everyone can enjoy.

Have a sense of humor. Humor can be a powerful tool for relieving stress. Share a laugh with your employees. It’s a great way to help diffuse a stressful situation.