The Stressor Factor and situation
I work in an IT consulting firm. As consultants we are often deployed to projects with tight deadline. The technology varies from project to project, each client has his own set of system and specific way of operating business. Due to tight schedules and deadlines resources do not get much time to learn the system or business process, so the learning curve has to be short and steep. Project managers have to maintain profitability so getting more resources or providing training is not possible. Learning new application / system, understanding the business process and understanding what we are required to deliver adds up along with the actual deliverable, resulting in increased workload and long working hours. I have very little to no control over, what I am supposed to deliver and when, as everything is pre-defined. As a team lead I find myself with a team of rookies. They require training, grooming and all extra attention one can imagine. So all these put me under lot of pressure and that often causes stress.
How it can be reduced
The long hours and workload mainly caused due to tight deadlines, short time to learn and very little to no training. So, everything boils down to “lack of time” and less resources. I am aware that whatever solution I suggest might impact the margin or profitability of the project, but since we are focusing on ways to reduce stress I will not worry about profitability for now. First of all, when we form a team we need to consider and allot some time to train them in the technology and business process. Having the knowledge up front will reduce learning curve and boost productivity. And this is not something I alone can do. The management team would have to initiate this change in process. They need to be okay with the impact on timeline / deadline and cost / budget. And the team need to understand the criticality and benefit of upfront training. Along with that they need to understand there will be minimum room for error and on job they are supposed to know the technology and application, so they should not expect too much help.
The management and Organization would have critical roles. As managing timeline of projects, providing training up front would be a cultural change organization wide, that has to be approved by management.
Consider the larger picture of stress management in the workplace. How important is it that organizations help employees manage stress?
In my point of view it is very critical. Stress often impacts health. I can speak from my experience, due to lack of sleep I used to be very irritable most of the time at work and at home. That impacted my relationship with my coworker. It definitely did not help with productivity or quality of my work. Neither did it help me be loyal to my employer, I wanted to get out of the situation as soon as possible. So the fact of the matter is, if organizations can help employees manage stress that will convert into better functioning team, higher productivity from employees and longer retention rate. One more benefit would be, less paid time offs, employees with good health and good mood might decide to show up at work more often that those who are not happy. It is always profitable to keep employees around, as hiring and training new employee is expensive and risky, because you never know the quality of the new hire while hiring. So, there might be some initial increase in expenses for organization to reduce employee stress but in long run the return on investment would be bigger.
Is it incumbent upon an employer to help its personnel to deal with stressors that may or may not be related to the workplace itself?
Employer should be only worrying about stress related to workplace. Although if an employee is stressed some matter that is not linked with workplace, it might impact employer, as the productivity and quality of output from the employee might suffer, but it is hard to determine if employer can do anything about it. Say an employee is going through a divorce or suffered a loss of closed one, may be management can approve some paid time off, and encourage the employee to seek professional help. Employer should provide health insurance to help the employee cover the cost partially or fully. But like I said, it is hard to find out from employee unless we have an observant and compassionate management team. The manager should notice the grieving employee, offer him / her help, listen them out and then provide solution to show them that the employer cares. That is best possible situation for employee in my opinion.