Stress management doesn’t have to be stressful

Understanding people’s stress can help managers and companies to support their staff, says Luke Smith

In the 2023 State of the Global Workplace report, Gallup found that 52% of U.S. and Canadian employees reported feeling a lot of stress during the previous day at work.

The poll found that the U.S. and Canada are tied with East Asia in having the highest percentage of workers reporting significant stress levels. High levels of stress lead to health problems, which can result in low productivity, missing work, and more.

The good news is that there are many things business leaders can do to help employees manage stress

Stress can kill your company culture if left unchecked. The good news is that there are many things business leaders can do to help employees manage stress. When your organisation takes these steps, you’ll reap the benefits of a happier, healthier workforce and a better work culture.

Benefits of managing stress

High stress levels have a variety of negative effects on your employees and business. Lower stress levels lead to better productivity and focus, a lower incidence of injuries, fewer sick days, and healthier employees.

Lower stress also improves team morale. Strong morale means employees will be more engaged and less likely to look for other jobs. They also speak well of your organisation, helping improve your brand image among employees — which has a positive impact on recruiting. As you improve morale through better communication and collaboration, don’t overlook the impact of helping employees to better manage stress.

Sometimes employees are reluctant to talk about stress or other mental health issues, but by creating a supportive environment in the organization, you can help team members feel comfortable opening up and facing their stressors.

Identifying stressors

The first step to managing stress is to know what’s causing it. This can be challenging for employees who wear many different hats, both at work and in their personal lives. As an employer, you can provide access to stress assessment tools to help them determine the cause.

Employees can ask themselves what causes them to feel tense, angry, upset, or overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that both positive and negative events can cause high levels of stress — so don’t overlook that recent promotion or new relationship.

Another indicator of stress is stress dreams. These dreams often result in restless sleep but also give important clues about why employees are feeling stressed. As a manager, you can help employees connect to resources that help them understand stress dreams, whether that’s a counsellor or another mental health resource.

When the source of stress is clear, it’s much easier to manage both the situation and the anxious feelings.

Create a lower-stress work culture

Managers and other leaders within a company have a significant impact on the culture. There are many steps they can take to make work less stressful for employees.

Managers might look at taking steps that can also raise morale, such as making it a point to check in with employees regularly and ensuring everyone is participating equally on the team. When they check in and balance the workload and encouragement, the team will have lower stress levels.

Also, consider having no-email days or specific times that are focused work hours for everyone in a department or company. This helps alleviate the stress of being frequently interrupted, which can make it feel like you’re not making progress on your tasks.

Leaders can also encourage employees to take all of their paid time off and set an example by taking leave themselves. Taking time off improves physical and mental health by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, and allowing employees to make time for hobbies or travel. Time off also improves relationships and reduces the risk of burnout.

Overall, it’s important to break the connection that many people think exists between being stressed and being important. In other words, don’t valorise overworking. Creating a lower-stress environment at work may take time, but every step in the right direction improves your work culture and makes it easier to attract and retain top talent.

Offer benefits that help manage stress

There are some easy-to-use benefits that can help people manage stress as well, and training employees about what they are and how to use them can make a big difference in stress levels.

For example, you can offer access to an employee assistance program (EAP) that provides stress management information, confidential mental health assistance, and more. Some organisations offer discounts on gym memberships and mindfulness apps to help employees better manage their physical and mental health.

If you can, consider creating a space in the office that can be used for quiet mindfulness. This would be separate from a break room and would be used by employees who need quiet reflection during their breaks and lunch times.

Finally, offer opportunities for employees to learn new skills and advance in their careers. This allows team members to be more resilient when faced with changes in business processes or technology and allows people to move up within the company if they want to.

Helping employees manage stress is essential

When you help employees reduce stress at work, you’ll discover that they are more engaged, productive, and creative. This is essential for your organization to grow and succeed in today’s environment.

It’s time for business culture to break away from the idea that your worth is based on how often you stay late, work on weekends, and pull an all-nighter to finish a project. Instead, business leaders can create a culture of balance where employees maximize their talents at work, take adequate time off, and invest in their personal lives away from the office.

Companies that make this change will be well-positioned to excel no matter what challenges the business faces in the future.

Luke Smith is a freelance writer.

Luke Smith

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