How to Reduce Work Related Stress: Ideas for Managers in Manual Material Handling and Manufacturing

posted on: Friday January 31, 2014

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Stress is a dynamic topic, especially for manual material handlers. The demands of the job make it more stressful than many other industries. Physical stress is a unique and complex component. Obviously, manual laborers are at risk of injuring themselves. Being injured brings on a whole other level of stress for the employee and employer. However, the mental stress that material handlers experience can lead to problems with sleep and cognitive function, making them more likely to incur injury even without the physical aspect of their job. Therefore, it is paramount that MMH managers have stress relief initiatives both for themselves and their employees.

How does one choose such initiatives?

There are seemingly infinite resources on stress – addressing causes, consequences, solutions, you name it. They all have value, but no one who actually needs these resources has time to sort through all of them. As a shortcut, this article will briefly cover stress relief issues as they relate to manual material handling, specifically in manufacturing.

In an article published on PubMed, Watanabe M explores specific MMH issues in: “Stress Management in Manufacturing Industries.” Three major job stress factors that the author uncovered are:

  • High job demands
  • Low job control
  • The ergonomics of the work environment

High job demands: The MMH environment is very demanding. In the Industry Week article “Leadership and Strategy: Stress Fails the Productivity Test,” author Steve Minter writes, “Manufacturers are always facing deadlines, (Ana Weber, the CFO of Binder Metal Products) points out. Frequently they are part of an OEM’s supply chain so their customer’s success depends on them meeting their particular deadline. There is also a constant demand for quality.”

MMH managers may not be able to change the demanding nature of the job, but they may be able to change the level of teamwork trust that employees have as well as the carrot at the end of their sticks.

In a highly demanding environment, stress becomes most out of control when a person feels that all the pressure is on him, even the pressure of other people successfully doing their jobs. Sometimes simply acknowledging the good work of employees sends the message to everyone else that they are competent in their jobs. If employees are not competent, management needs to figure that out immediately and provide training. Team activities can help solidify employees both on and off the floor. These activities can also be used as reward for completing an especially stressful job. Treating a team to a meal or fun activity can offer something to look forward to, a way to blow off steam, and team building. For an even bigger “carrot,” offer employees extra paid days off as a reward for completing a big job. A paid day off is not only great motivation, but also great stress relief.

Low job control: People go to extreme measures to feel like they have some control in their lives. Having a sense of control on the job not only alleviates stress, but also improves productivity. Managers can promote autonomy in a number of ways; Heidi Grant Halverson gives us three in her Forbes article, “How To Give Employees A Sense of Autonomy (When You Are Really Calling The Shots)”

Ensure that your employees clearly understand why specific goals exist. Make it understood in a way that the employees personally choose to reach that goal. Better yet, let employees set their own goals when possible.

  • Allow employees to choose how they will reach the goal. They know what they need to do; now they can decide how to go about it. Whether they have free reign over this decision or get to choose from 2-3 predetermined paths does not matter. Choice is choice.
  • If it is not possible to let employees choose a path to completing a goal, let them make peripheral choices (e.g., topics for regular meetings, lunch service, etc.)

It is worth noting that one of the top reasons employees leave their jobs is because they don’t feel able to make valuable contributions. By having employees contribute via choices, they feel both valuable and in control.

The ergonomics of the work environment: This can range from safety training to redesigning workstations to buying equipment. It is extremely important to take care of MMH employees via ergonomics. Simply being put in a situation that is more dangerous than necessary makes employees feel like they aren’t valued or cared about. The bonus of ergonomics is that they boost productivity, so any reasonable investment an employer makes in ergonomics typically pays off within 5 years or less. Ergonomic solutions not only reduce the stress of anticipating an injury, they also minimize the physical and mental stress of simply doing the job.

Different job industries will each have unique stressors, and knowing what they are will save time. Addressing the most stressful job factors may take some trial and error, but remaining communicative with employees will greatly help the process. The most successful stress management plans are incorporated organizationally. Watanabe M writes, “In order to make these stress management plans successful in the long term, an actual system for stress management is required, with recognition and support by top management. It is also important to assess the effectiveness and method of each stress management plan with proper measurements.”

Having your employees choose new equipment?

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