The surprising biggest cause of workplace stress, and 3 communications tactics to help reduce it

A recent survey has shown that the greatest source of stress in the workplace is unclear goals. Does this surprise you?

Workers reported that lack of clarity about objectives was twice as stressful as anything else, including a bad manager, long hours or difficult co-workers. 

This is obviously bad news for employers as well as stressed-out employees. Stress contributes to absenteeism, productivity nose-dives and toxic workplace cultures, not to mention having a significant impact on the mental and physical health of employees. 

The good news, however, is that lack of clarity can be addressed with some simple management communication interventions. 

Here’s how you can help your team reduce their stress levels, by providing greater clarity about their goals. 


Focus on outcomes not inputs

It can be tempting when employees say they’re unclear about a project, to tell them how to do it. But this can come across as micro-managing and it takes agency away from the employee - people want to feel pride in having achieved something themselves.


Instead, when setting a task or project, focus on the outcome you want to achieve. A clear, measurable goal might be:

  • Reduce damage to products in transit by 75% 

  • Increase the number of corporate donors to 300

  • Reduce IT Helpdesk queries about a new software program to 2 per day. 


This provides employees with a clear direction, but lets them figure out how to get there themselves. 


Make the ‘why’ crystal clear


Organizations spend countless hours (and dollars) developing corporate strategies, but studies consistently show that only 30% of employees really know what the strategy is, and fewer than 10% can articulate their role in delivering it. That’s a lot of cats that are going unherded. 

By linking the goals you set for your team to the organizational strategy and purpose, you will paint a powerful picture for why these goals are important, helping boost their motivation to deliver. 

Take this example of a fictional nonprofit:

Purpose: To inspire a passion for nature in the next generation of leaders

Strategy: To make sure all students have the opportunity to access wilderness areas

Goal: To have 5000 students in our region participate in an outdoor education program this year. 


This way, when your team is asking school principals to commit part of their limited budget to your organization’s programs, they will feel more motivated to continue, knowing that they are working towards creating a generation of future leaders that are environmental advocates. 


Check in and ask coaching questions


While direction can seem clear at the beginning, we’ve all become a bit lost in the mire of a project. Sometimes the scope can grow, or the direction can shift when more information becomes available.

By setting up regular times to talk with your team, and asking them coaching questions, you can support a continued sense of clarity. 

What do we mean by coaching questions? Rather than telling employees the answer, coaching questions support them to find the right way forward for themselves, increasing their engagement with their role.

Coaching questions might be:

  • What additional information do you need to move forward?

  • Which stakeholders do you need to connect with to find that information?

  • How could you organize all the information you’ve gathered to help you feel more in control?


Managers play a vital role in connecting their teams to their organization’s strategy. By focussing on clear communication, they can create a high-performance environment where goals are achieved and employees feel engaged with their work and inspired by their organization’s purpose.


Want to find out more about helping managers to become outstanding communicators? Get in touch today.