Project management, financial management, office management… All these are typical for any functioning business or employer.
But what about stress management?
Although “stress management” might sound like something for the psychologist’s office, it is incredibly important in the work office. Stress is a productivity killer. It makes employees less effective at their jobs, and less satisfied in their position. It is also a mood killer, and overly-stressed employees can lead to a toxic workplace and high turnover. Yet stress affects us all, there’s no escaping it. In the US, 83% of people say that they are stressed at work, and 25% even put their job as the number one stressor in their lives! Something has got to change. And it can, by making stress management an integral part of workplace management.
What is stress management in the workplace?
Stress management in the workplace is a set of strategies that are developed and implemented in order to reduce stress among employees and make the workplace more healthy, enjoyable and productive. Stress management at work comes from the top – from the executive level. It affects just about all aspects of the workplace, from the roles and responsibilities assigned to employees, to expected work hours, management of deadlines, length and spacing of breaks during the day, communication, and the quality of food in the staff kitchen. Like all management processes, stress management will only be effective if it is properly planned and executed. It must also be reviewed periodically to ensure the strategies and techniques are bringing the expected benefits and results. That is to say, it’s not enough to offer a wellness lecture once in a while, or run a yoga workshop a couple of times a year. These are nice, but good stress management in the workplace requires more. It must be built into the company culture, and a regular part of the everyday functioning of the office. It may seem like a steep challenge but it’s worth it. Besides the physical, mental and emotional benefits to employees, businesses win too. For every dollar spent on wellness programs that reduce stress in the workplace, employers save $2.73 in the costs associated with absenteeism.
What is the impact of stress at work?
When people are stressed at work, it not only affects them during work hours. It spills over into their home life too. In a 2018 study, 76% of US employees said that stress at work affected their relationships, and for 66%, stress led to lack of sleep. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a look at the impact of NOT having stress management strategies at the workplace:
- Health issues: Stress at work (and stress in general) is known to have debilitating effects on physical health, such as headaches and digestive issues, as well as more serious health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Anxiety & depression: It’s not just a cliche – medical studies show that workplace stress leads to diagnosable anxiety and depression disorders in otherwise healthy young workers.
- Lack of focus & motivation: In a 2021 study, 26% of US workers said that they felt a lack of interest, motivation and energy at work. This leads to reduced creativity and increased apathy, which ultimately causes job dissatisfaction and even poor self esteem.
- Reduced productivity: A clinical study proves that stress and productivity are inversely correlated – the higher the stress, the lower the productivity. Unsurprisingly, stress strongly correlates with work dissatisfaction. Bottom line: stressed employees get less work done, and don’t enjoy their jobs very much.
- Higher absenteeism & turnover: Workplace stress is a key indicator for absenteeism. Employees under stress are much more likely to suffer from health issues, or call in ‘sick’ when the stress gets too much. Stress is also a key factor in workers deciding to quit. 63% of US employees consider leaving their jobs due to stress.
5 stress management strategies in the workplace
Given all that is known about stress, and how it affects people at work and outside of work hours, some companies are making stress management part of their culture. But there’s plenty more work to do. According to the American Association of Depression & Anxiety, just 4 in 10 workers suffering from stress have talked to their employers about it. Here are 5 stress management techniques that can help turn this around and increase wellness and productivity at the workplace.
Educate staff about stress and how to manage it
Knowledge is power, and this is very true for stress management at work. The first step to reducing stress is being aware that you are stressed, and recognizing your stress triggers, so you can find methods of alleviating stress. Employers can give workers the tools to get educated about stress, such as workshops focusing on self awareness, healthy eating, and conflict management, or stress management techniques, like yoga or mindfulness meditation. The same way that employers help their staff advance professionally – say by offering courses in presentation skills, or advanced software training – so they can train employees in stress management.
Incorporate fun and relaxation as part of the culture
While workers are here to work, employers can reduce stress by making the workplace a psychologically safe, positive and fun place to be. Create opportunities for teams to relax and enjoy spending time together. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘fun days’ – these are great maybe once or twice a year. But it’s the small everyday moments that really help build a sense of lightness and fun. Launch a musical band for employees who can play instruments, pipe relaxing music into the kitchen area, encourage teams to have a Friday afternoon chill session, to chat and relax before clocking out for the weekend. The possibilities are endless.
Pay attention and respond accordingly
Overloading employees with tasks or pushing unrealistic deadlines is a straight road to stress. It is important to strike a balance of challenging workers without overwhelming them. The easiest way to do that is by paying attention to them, listening to their requests (and complaints!), and responding effectively and appropriately. Make employees feel comfortable to approach their manager if they are ever feeling overwhelmed. Have clear procedures about how to request tasks from employees – rather than a flood of disorganized emails, use a task management software program that keeps it organized and reduces anxiety. Most importantly, lead by example and follow the ‘golden rule’ – treat others as you would want to be treated. This will filter down to the rest of the company and create a much less stressful environment.
Long hours, late meetings and long commutes are all sources of stress. During the COVID lockdowns, millions of workers had the opportunity to work from home, or work in hybrid mode, and for many, it is now a preference. In fact, 61% are continuing to work from home even though their office is open. By giving workers more flexibility in their schedules, employers can go a long way to reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction and productivity. This may mean avoiding scheduling meetings before or after a certain time, giving employees the option to work from home, or having them leave early when they need to pick up their kids. Another effective stress management technique is providing mental health days, so workers can have time away from the office to take care of their wellbeing without having to cut into sick leave or vacation leave.
Make the physical space comfortable and inviting
A calm, organized workplace is essential to reducing stress. Make sure that the office or work space is equipped with suitable ergonomic equipment, the kitchen is stocked with a variety of nutritious snacks and food, and employees have a place where they can go to unwind and relax. Some workplaces might choose to provide a games room, perhaps with table tennis or yoga mats for exercise. Another idea is to create a quiet zone, a dedicated room for mindfulness meditation where workers can take time out and really focus on their internal state. By providing access to the Reflect biofeedback device that doesn’t require any special sensors or set up, employees can track their physiological state and monitor how they are coping with stress. This is a really easy way to enrich their meditation practice or relaxation exercises, and learn to manage stress even while on a short break during the workday.
Start managing workplace stress now
Workplace stress is associated with increased anxiety, health issues, burnout, and absenteeism. These are just a few of the long list of negative effects that stress has on workers and on the company. Stress is cumulative – the longer a person is stressed, the worse the outcome. For businesses, the time to start implementing stress management strategies in the workplace is right now. Over time, the benefits – including more creativity, higher productivity, and lower turnover – will begin to show. And that is what every employer should aim for.