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Employers may need a few tips

Employers concerned about a potential breakdown from stressed-out employees may want to consider a few tips to bring harmony back into the office. What employees want the most is to be kept informed of what's going on in the company, said Lee Lun...

Employers concerned about a potential breakdown from stressed-out employees may want to consider a few tips to bring harmony back into the office.

What employees want the most is to be kept informed of what's going on in the company, said Lee Lundberg, a training officer with North Dakota's Human Resource Management Services.

"If you know what's going on and you have the sense that your boss or bosses are keeping you informed ... that does a lot emotionally to keep people on an even keel," he said.

Another important management tactic is consistency. There's nothing more devastating than going to work one day when a certain behavior is OK, but the next day it isn't, Lundberg said.

Bosses who think they need to be on a power trip also create uneasiness in a work environment, said Fargo Elim Care administrator Tim Hager.


"Early in my career, I somehow learned that if you treat people well and treat them with respect ... they will work their tail off for you," said Hager, who oversees a campus that includes an assisted-living facility and a rehabilitation and care center.

"Unfortunately, some people in leadership feel that unless they're cracking the whip and being mean, they'll be run over," he added.

Hager tells all of his new employees that his job isn't more important than theirs to emphasize everyone is part of one team.

Managers are advised to take employees' suggestions seriously because they are on the "front line" and tend to know best what works and what doesn't work, Hager said.

Another Elim Care stress-relieving tactic is having pets on the campus. From cats and dogs to birds and bunnies, the pet population allows staff to get away from their work for a few minutes to care for the animals.

"It's a very positive distraction for staff and the people we care for to have these living things," Hager said. "It adds some spontaneity to the place."

Control, competency, clarity and communication are key factors for employers to keep in mind to reduce workplace stress, Fargo Innovis Health psychiatrist Dr. David Carlson said.

Employees like to feel that they have control over their work and that they can do their job well, he said. Workers should be matched with jobs that don't leave them overchallenged or underchallenged. This includes appropriate job training.


Lack of clarity and communication can cause stress for employees unsure of expectations, Carlson said.

"It (communication) seems fairly obvious, but it also doesn't always play out," he said. "A lot of stress in the workplace is because of poor communication."

Managers should also recognize early signs of stress in employees and make sure workers are aware of employee assistance programs, he said.

The Village Family Service Center has contracts with 471 local companies, said counselor/trainer Denise Hellekson.

Counselors help employees with a variety of issues from stress management to financial planning to anger management.

The area's largest employer - MeritCare Hospital - has its own employee assistance program to help reduce stress, said Harriette McCaul, executive partner for human resources.

Fun and frolic committees also plan activities for stress relief, she said.

MeritCare also recently opened a healing garden where employees can take a break and get some fresh air.


"When we're full to capacity, it can be very stressful for our associates," McCaul said.

"We really think it's important that they have the opportunity to get away and be able to kind of unwind and refresh themselves to go back to work," she added.

The work ethic in this region creates a tendency for employees to skip breaks that they should take, said Annie Kirschenmann of Windsor, N.D., about 17 miles west of Jamestown.

The entrepreneur recently launched a Simple Stress Solutions business to work with employers to create company stress-relief programs.

Employers looking to reduce stress in the workplace need to create a consciousness and a culture around it, she said.

"It has to become a priority for the company in order for employees to be able to benefit from it. It really has to come from the top down," Kirschenmann said.

Microsoft's Fargo campus offers a variety of distractions to keep the stress level low.

Dodgeball games, a fitness room, a foosball table and various social clubs give employees a chance to have fun and relax. Holiday parties, picnics and event nights are also planned.


Microsoft works hard to be the employer of choice, said Don Morton, senior staff to senior vice president Doug Burgum, about why the company provides so many activities.

"It takes more than just compensation. It takes a real commitment to your team members," Morton said. "We're in this for the long haul."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560

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