The pandemic has changed nearly everything, but one workplace issue remains the same: Employees are stressed.
And it’s important that HR and other company leaders address the stress and help employees manage their mental health.
Here’s why: More than 40% of employees think the best solution to their workplace stress is to quit! That’s according to the Employee Stress Check 2021 Report from Talkspace for Business and Harris Poll, which also found two thirds of employees who consider quitting feel their employers didn’t follow through on promises to focus on mental health.
With the tight labor market, HR pros and managers don’t want to lose good employees to bad stress.
“The workforce returning to the office is not the same one that left in 2020,” says Talkspace therapist Dr. Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., LPCC-S. “Employers need to normalize mental health conversations within the company culture and elevate mental health to a key company value.”
Employees might need more help to manage and potentially overcome stress – even if some of the stress isn’t a direct result of work.
Here are tips to help employees so your company continues to retain a healthy workforce.
Know the breaking point
Some employees are more likely to quit because of their stress level. When the Talkspace researchers asked employees who admitted they would likely quit in the next six months, they shared these issues:
- 80% said they were burned out
- 43% had a hard time sleeping
- 39% were short tempered, and
- 39% said their physical health has suffered.
You’ll want front-line managers to look for these signs their employees are near a breaking point. In some cases, managers can see it – short tempers and disengagement from their work. But they might want to listen closer for clues, too – perhaps complaints about poor sleep or physical health.
Equip front-line managers with resources to help employees who are stressed. Then managers can direct employees to those resources – online tools to relax, virtual counseling or on-demand courses on how to handle major stressors like personal finances and childcare management.
“Employers who adequately support employee well-being in all forms are more likely to see positive impacts on productivity, time management, and other key factors that lead to better workplace outcomes and employee retention,” says O’Neill.
Know the pressing stressor
Returning to the office has been – or will be – a jarring event for many employees. Even a few of those who want to get back to business have some anxiety about what the future of work holds for everyone.
“It is important to remember that individuals will experience reopening and return to normality at their own pace,” says O’Neill.
She suggests managers practice:
- Patience: Remind everyone to be patient and gracious, being mindful that it might take time to readjust to social and professional settings.
- Empathy: Researchers see increased rates of depression, anxiety, grief and loss in the wake of COVID-19. Practice empathy and continue to spread the word on employer-sponsored wellness and mental health benefits.
- Flexibility: Try to find opportunities to give employees choices. Meet with employees to help them structure their work day with agreeable flexibility.
Focus on what’s going well
Fortunately, there are bright spots in employees’ outlooks. Most employees aren’t stressed over work – and/or life – all the time.
In fact, most people feel many aspects of work and life are better now than they were before the pandemic, a Qualtrics study found. Specifically, when asked to compare five critical elements to well-being, employees said:
- Work-life balance: 43% are better off vs. 18% worse off
- Job satisfaction: 39% are better off vs. 20% worse off
- Career progress: 36% are better off vs. 17% worse off
- Finances: 38% are better off vs. 27% worse off, and
- Overall happiness: 41% are better off vs. 24% worse off.
“It’s time for us to take stock of what we’ve learned so we can be intentional about what changes from the pandemic are worth keeping and which should be discarded,” says Benjamin Granger, Ph.D., head of employee experience advisory services at Qualtrics. “It’s critical that leaders don’t forget how flexibility and new ways of working have made life better for employees.”
HR can help employees improve the elements of work and life that are already better than they were before the pandemic. A tip for each here:
- Work-life balance: Managers will want to meet at least quarterly with direct reports to monitor workloads and be sure demand doesn’t sneak into personal space.
- Job satisfaction: Employees’ relationships with their boss has the single biggest impact on job satisfaction. Look for ways to train managers on Emotional Intelligence and other soft skills to build better relationships.
- Career progress: Hold semi-annual career conversations to help employees identify goals, emerging areas of interest and ways to stay engaged or get ahead.
- Finances. Offer financial well-being resources as part of your overall well-being benefits.
Give employees practical tips
Finally, here are three practical, stress-reducing tips to pass along from therapists at Talkspace:
- Focus on better inputs for better outputs. That might be a change to healthier snacks and meals, taking walking breaks or five-minute desk meditations. The more positive things you do for your physical and mental health, the more likely you’ll be able to successfully manage stress and overall well-being.
- Spend time reflecting on what matters more. Wrap up the day recognizing and listing your accomplishments rather than mulling over an incomplete to-do list. When you focus on how productive you were, you set the stage for a more relaxing evening and successful next day.
- Call in backups. People tend to make poorer decisions when they’re stressed and burned out. If you feel overwhelmed at work – and are contemplating big decisions such as career changes or anything that affects colleagues or customers – talk to a trusted circle. That might include a manager, the HR director, a counselor or therapist. Do extra research and get more support.