Some of us close our eyes, take a deep breath, and count to ten. Others reach into their office drawer and squeeze a tension-relieving toy. Virtually no one, however, is unaffected at some point in their lives by workplace stress. According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress. The AIS also notes that this stress causes 120,000 deaths and costs $190 billion in healthcare each year!
Luckily, both these fatalities and expenditures can be considerably reduced by changing how we deal with workplace stress. Reducing chronic anxiety, burnout, and organizational communication issues not only improves your employees’ lives, but can also dramatically reduce absenteeism.
Currently, the AIS says that roughly one million workers miss work each day because of stress. Workplace stress isn’t just unpleasant: it’s a productivity killer.
What is workplace stress?
Much as each person has their individual reaction to a particular food, one person’s stress response is another person’s idea of an exciting day on the job. Workplace stress is therefore less defined by a particular situation as it is by our reaction to that situation.
You may find a fast-paced office job with lots of paperwork dull, but another person may get completely overwhelmed by the idea of being stuck inside while being forced to ponder spreadsheets. As an example, studies show that some active duty police officers report feeling very stressed when forced to do excessive paperwork.
However, even though each person’s triggers are particular to them, there are a few commonalities that create workplace stress regardless of the occupation or the individual inhabiting it.
The first of these is a feeling of having too much to do and too little time to do it. The second has to do with poor communication between employees and employers, although poor communication among coworkers can be equally problematic. Finally, not taking enough breaks, whether that means regular annual vacations or enough time each day to eat a healthy lunch, can contribute to a very stressed-out employee.
The good news is that each of these larger problem areas can be mitigated.
Tips for reducing workplace stress
- Improve Communication
The AIS notes that during 2019, 80% of workers in the US were stressed as a result of ineffective company communication. Organizational leaders can sometimes forget that employees don’t know exactly what they are thinking, or are even aware of the many different variables that they deal with every day. A leader may make a decision that she thinks would be obvious to anyone who understood the circumstances behind it.
The problem is that these decisions can sometimes come as shocks to the workforce, especially if the organizational communication is one-sided. While no one can explain every choice they make or indeed tell their employees absolutely everything they’re handling, companies can improve the lines of communication.
To improve communication within the team, let your colleagues know what style of communication works best for you so they have a better chance of expressing their thoughts. Do you respond to email, or do you prefer in-person meetings? Do you like instant messaging apps, or would you prefer a scheduled weekly briefing?
Whatever form of communication works best for you, be clear about it, and set reasonable boundaries. Team members will benefit from having clear guidelines, and feel less stressed out about giving (and receiving) important information.
- Encourage Taking Reasonable Breaks and Vacations
Whether we are an employee or an employer, we all benefit from taking breaks to recharge our batteries. Unfortunately, many employees feel afraid to take genuine vacations, especially when their supervisor doesn’t seem to be taking any personal time off.
For team leaders, it’s important to set an example. Leaders should discuss vacations they have taken or plan to take. They shouldn’t be afraid to discuss how they go home for dinner on a regular basis and stop checking their messages overnight. Everyone will benefit from taking regular breaks and being able to destress and return to work refreshed.
- Make Mental Health a Workplace Priority
While employers naturally encourage their employees to be physically healthy, you may not be doing enough to encourage their mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s true that some work days are much busier and more intense than others: no organization can avoid that entirely. However, companies can make it a part of their culture to talk about how to combat or reduce chronic stress, fatigue, anxiety, or depression by having a proactive HR department.
By raising awareness of mental health through regular notifications or seminars and offering solutions for workers seeking care, companies can nip problematic stress in the bud, thereby retaining valuable employees, decreasing absenteeism, and ultimately bolstering productivity.
Supporting employee wellbeing
Because everyone experiences stress slightly differently, supporting employee wellbeing on a large scale translates into two primary techniques:
1. providing dedicated stress-reduction zones and
2. increasing access to mental health care options.
A stress-reduction zone can be something as simple as a dedicated space with comfortable furniture and the sound of a waterfall. It can also mean a weekly mindfulness or yoga class which employees can choose to join, or even regular visits by a massage therapist.
This space, class, or optional massage should preferably be held onsite or as close to where employees regularly work as possible. For employees, knowing that relief is literally right around the corner acts as its own kind of stress reliever.
Likewise, increasing your employees’ access to mental health care options doesn’t have to be overly complicated. By partnering with Spring Health, your company makes it clear that you provide access to data-driven, customized care for all of your employees’ mental health needs. In addition to a full roster of in-person counseling and clinical services, we also have technological solutions such as our Moments mobile app, which provides clinically-validated mental health exercises and relaxation techniques to aid in your emotional well-being. To find out more about what Spring Health can do for you and your workforce, please contact us.