Work Stress Behind Nearly Half of SME Employee Resignations

New research by software company Process Bliss shows that 43% of SME employees have left their job because the frustrations and stress they experience at work were not dealt with.

Working for an SME is more stressful

The report, ‘Causes and implications of workplace stress in SMEs’, also revealed 38% of respondents feel working for a small business is more stressful than working for a bigger firm, while one-third of respondents have called in sick because of work-related stress.

“We delved into what was causing this stress and it was invariably the little things that made a difference,” says Alister Esam, founder and CEO of, Process Bliss.

So what were these ‘little things’?

Causes of workplace stress in SMEs

Respondents were asked about the causes of their workplace stress.

  • Chasing colleagues for updates: 33%
  • Lack of information or clarity when asked to do something: 31%
  • Lack of control over a situation: 28%
  • Lack of guidance/direction from your boss 26%
  • Lack of response to emails 25%
  • Lack of effective collaboration with colleagues 24%
  • Being chased by your boss unnecessarily 23%
  • Being micromanaged by your boss 15%
  • Lack of trust placed in you by your boss 12%

The number of these reasons that include a lack of information, guidance or response isn’t surprising when you consider that 63% of respondents also admitted they were not clear about all of their company’s processes. Uncertainty about how to proceed or the right way to handle something is stressful in itself, as is feeling that your boss doesn’t trust you to manage your workload and deliver work on time—another common theme.

“The biggest problems, a lack of clarity from management when asking for something to be done or a lack of guidance from the boss, simply should not be factors in workplace stress,” said Alister Esam.

“They are easily avoidable by providing the right training or having functioning processes to work with.”


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Removing the uncertainty: clear, accessible processes

Poorly defined and inaccessible processes are not only stressful as an employee, but bad for business too. 43% of respondents say their company has lost customers because of failed processes.

The unclear processes causing most concern were:

  • Employee/new starter onboarding: 20%
  • Procurement: 17%
  • Credit-checking: 17%
  • HR disciplinary processes: 15%
  • Invoicing: 13%
  • Customer onboarding: 13%
  • Aftersales care: 11%

“Many companies document their processes, but it is clear that many employees aren’t aware of that fact or find them inaccessible,” said Alister Esam.

“As a result, they effectively operate without them, which leads to errors, micromanagement and mutual distrust between staff and bosses.”

Workplace stress solutions

68% of SME employees say collaboration in their company could be improved and 75% say communication could be improved, so this suggests an ideal first step would be to ask everyone’s opinion on ways to solve these issues (and where the problem areas lie).

A lack of clarity about procedures and the onboarding process suggests that induction and training need to be better, so that employees don’t take on a role fully until they’re confident about exactly what they’re meant to do and when.

Processes need to be documented if they are not already, but there is only value in this if new employees have time to study them, and if they remain accessible and adhered to by all.

“A process must be supportive and usable to employees rather than a document that nobody reads,” warns Alister Esam.

“Employees do their best work when they are motivated, engaged, trusted and work in a reduced-stress environment.”

Are you the owner or manager of an SME? What could you do today to tackle the ‘little things’ that may be causing stress for your employees?


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