In small doses, stress can be good. Biologically speaking, this is known as “hormesis,” a favorable adaptive response and output from acute or intermittent stress.
The stress from exercise creates growth and strengthens the body. Grapes from stressed plants can make award-winning wines.
And a little bit of pressure and stress from a challenge at work can spark endorphins that fuel creative breakthroughs.
This kind of pressure and stress is present in all work environments. It allows staff to continue to work and learn. However, when it becomes overwhelming and unrelenting, it can turn into chronic stress. This is where it all takes a turn for the worst, negatively impacting employees’ health and their ability to perform (Mendy, 2020).
Workplace stress costs US employers around $300 billion every year and continues to rise according to the American Institute of Stress. It is defined as a response of those presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope (World Health Organization, 2020).
This stress is often exacerbated when employees do not feel like they are supported by management or co-workers, or when they feel like they have no control over the process.
The COVID-19 pandemic only made matters worse. Depression and anxiety exploded. Census Bureau data recorded clinically significant symptoms for depression and anxiety, at 24 and 30 percent respectively, only a few months after the beginning of the pandemic (Fowers & Wan, 2020).
So, what’s behind all the stress at work?
Each person could probably have their own list of tasks, projects, or even names, but, broadly speaking, SHRM identifies the top five workplace stressors as:
- Low wages
- Lack of opportunity for advancement
- Too heavy a workload
- Unrealistic job expectations
- Long hour
To combat these, many employers have instituted wellness programs, however, according to the American Psychological Association (2016), only one-third of workers reported participating in these programs.
So, what can employers do to help their staff reduce their stress levels?
- Create a connected, proactive management culture to stop problems before they start
Offer your management teams leadership training so that they know how to effectively manage and mitigate stress in the workplace. This can include:
- Teach your management teams to listen. Mastering this skill and showing staff a willingness to hear what that underlying issue maybe could help you get to the root of the issue quickly and help reduce your staff's stress levels
- Teach your staff to use “Positive” language instead of negative. Show them how to reframe their thoughts and interactions. By avoiding blaming, complaining, and eliminating as much negative energy as possible, you can create a very powerful positive environment
- Have monthly one on ones with each staff person to do a check-in – even if it is just a walk around to say hi and ask how they are doing
- Help each of your staff develop a career path that works for them
This could look different for each team and employee. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Help them understand their role in the company and their current position. Show them how they contribute to the company’s mission.
- Sit with each of them to see where they want to go and show them how to get there.
- Help your team understand the expectations at each step and show them how to reach their goals. Put the power in their hands to move forward.
- Provide training and resources, such as time management training, continuing education in their specialty to provide ongoing support
- Help your staff and management teams understand the signs of stress
Preventative measures such as addressing safety and health hazards, lowering workloads, and addressing unhealthy management practices can go a long way in helping to show the staff how much you care and support them. Common signs of stress at work include:
- Anxiety, irritability, or depression
- Apathy or loss of interest in work
- Trouble concentrating
- Muscle tension or headaches
- Stomach problems
- Use of alcohol or drugs to cope
- Make it easy for employees to take advantage of the mental and physical health connection
When people have poor mental health are more likely to be less physically active, have poor safety habits, have a poor diet, and may even smoke
As an employer you can help by offering walking groups during lunch hours, providing healthy snack options – food and drink, providing a partially paid gym membership, or even onsite fitness facilities.
Offer self-care programs such as breathing exercises, meditation and breathing apps, and other relaxation programs that can be done in 5 minutes or less (Insight Timer, Headspace, and other similar apps).
- Reward creativity, resilience, and teamwork
Show the staff that you appreciate their dedication to their work, growth goals, or adherence to safety protocols.
This can range from a “We Appreciate You” lunch for your staff, giving out company merchandise, gift card, or handwritten “Thank You” cards. Even a sincere conversation sharing gratitude can go a long way.
- Address individual and organizational concerns as they develop
Provide inclusive policies and spaces for your staff to relax and speak openly about issues important to them. When a concern arises, let them be part of the solution. Provide your staff with some degree of autonomy where appropriate.
Advocacy for employees doesn’t have to begin when a workplace injury occurs. The right work environment and protocols can help you and your employees see the benefit much earlier. And, it may help prevent claims in the process.