How HR can help employees reduce their stress.

There’s a stress epidemic in the United States. Study after study has proven we’re more stressed out than ever before, and the pressure is manifesting in alarming ways. Incidences of high blood pressure and heart attacks are on the rise, alongside rates of depression and anxiety. What’s causing all this? Employers might be troubled to learn that the answer is work.

According to The American Institute of Stress, work is unequivocally the single biggest source of stress for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 40% of employees consider their job very or extremely stressful. 65% of respondents to a 2000 Integra Survey stated “workplace stress had caused difficulties,” and over 10% “described these as having major effects.”

The signs are everywhere

These effects are often felt on a number of levels, including individually, professionally, and socially. Individually, employees might experience the health issues described above, have difficulty concentrating, develop sleeping or eating disorders, or struggle to maintain a healthy body weight. Professionally, the quality of their work might decline, or they may seem distracted or less productive. From a social perspective, stressed out employees might start to behave uncharacteristically around family, colleagues, and friends. It’s not uncommon for people to withdraw or exhibit other antisocial behavior, but stress affects everyone differently. While some may shrink into themselves, others might become more irritable and explosive. In fact, one study revealed 25% of respondents have felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress, and 10% were worried someone at work could become violent.

You can help your staff

All this points to the fact that millions of Americans are on the verge of burning out — and employers need to step in. Here are some ways you can make a difference:

  • Develop a culture of support. If managers aren’t addressing their stress in healthy ways, neither will their staff. Your employees need to know that they can always turn to their managers for help if they’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Similarly, managers must be trained to minimize workplace stress and provide appropriate solutions for struggling employees.
  • Prioritize mental health. As previously mentioned, mental health is closely linked to physical health. It thus comes as no surprise that when organizations champion proper mental wellness, employees are healthier, take fewer sick days, and are more productive. This can be achieved by sharing information and access to services on topics like mindfulness, stress management, and self-care to support psychological well-being.
  • Relax your rules surrounding paid time off. It can be stressful to know you only get ten days of paid leave per year. Rather than “waste” those precious days, many employees choose to come to work even when they’re unwell. This presenteeism is detrimental to both individuals and the organization. Giving them leeway to take mental health or sick days when they need to ensures your employees stay healthy and can come to work feeling their best.
  • Design an uplifting physical work environment. Did you know the spaces around you can affect your mental well-being? Things like natural lighting, calming artwork, and comfortable furniture can go a long way to putting your employees’ minds at ease. Here is some more information on how you can improve your work environment.
  • Consider alternative therapies. Perks like onsite massages and puppy therapy are growing in popularity. Not only are they effective ways of breaking up the pace of the workday, but they can also re-energize employees and put them in a positive mood.
  • Offer access to financial and legal advice. The cost of living is rising faster than wages are, and employees are feeling it. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 64% of respondents are concerned they may not be able to afford retirement and 41% are worried about covering their basic monthly bills. To make matters worse, an ARAG survey determined three quarters of Americans had at least one legal matter to attend to in 2016. Giving your staff access to resources on personal finance and legal advice can greatly reduce their stress.

No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to eliminate all the stress in your employees’ lives. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone experiences stress differently, and not all stress is negative. For example, investment bankers, emergency medical service providers, lawyers, and other people who work in intense professions understand that stress is inherent to their jobs. Many even thrive on it. What you need to look out for is abnormal, destructive levels of stress. Use the tactics above to keep stress in check so your employees can feel more focused, productive, and engaged. To learn more about how you can help your staff thrive, book a free LifeSpeak demo today.

Also published on Medium.