Workplace stress is a big source of day-to-day turmoil for many employees, which is why it’s important employers take an active role to reduce stress.
Good business outcomes depend, in part, on employee retention which is another reason why employers can’t afford to ignore the mental health of their employees.
The goal is to find ways to alleviate or remove stressors in the workplace to the greatest extent possible, build coping and resiliency supports, and ensure that people who need help know where to turn. Reducing workplace stress benefits everyone across an organization.
Reducing stressors can improve morale and lead to increased productivity and better focus, fewer workplace injuries, fewer sick days, and improved physical health, like lower blood pressure and a stronger system, according to OSHA. All these factors can also lead to reduced turnover among an employer’s workforce.
Why It’s Important for Employers to Reduce Stress
The effects of stress are endless – not only does it affect an employee’s performance but it also affects their physical and mental health. Chronic stress can lead to many health problems which can also take employees down for the count.
Workplace stress is highly personal. Some people thrive in fast-paced jobs, such as emergency room nurses, police officers, and air-traffic controllers. These are stressful jobs where making a mistake can put people’s lives at risk.
The rest of us likely wouldn’t last a day in such high-pressure environments. But that doesn’t mean our jobs don’t have stress. Every job has its own kind of stress. There could be short deadlines, endless paperwork and meetings that drag on for hours, putting everyone behind even more. All can cause stress.
In other words, it’s not just the job that creates stress. It’s also the way a person responds to the pressures and demands of each workplace that makes them stressed.
Not surprisingly, people respond to stress differently. The way they respond depends on their personality and their workplace culture.
Workplace Stress Management Actions Employers Can Take
Because employers and the environment they create play a role in an employee’s workplace stress, it’s important they’re thinking about ways to help their workers manage stress.
The answer isn’t to liberate workers from having to learn new things, but for workers to become more resilient so they’re better able to handle this type of challenge and get better at workplace stress management.
Here’s a look at eight proven workplace stress management actions employers can take.
1. Establish a supportive company culture
Company culture plays a huge role in how an employee feels when times are good and when times are tough. Workplace stress is sometimes fed by fear-based cultures that leave employees anxious about their performance, leadership ineffective or insufficiently trained, unmanageable workloads and relational issues between colleagues unaddressed.
On the other hand, a great company culture attracts people who want to work or do business with a company. It can inspire employees to be more productive and positive at work while reducing turnover. In that sense, who you work with plays a huge role in your mental health and how you’re able to navigate stress.
Good workplace mental health requires a supportive culture that starts from the top down.
Positive sentiments and company values work best when heard from the top executives and frontline managers.
2. Offering employee assistance programs for wellness
Workplace stress doesn’t always just go away because a tough project is done, so consider offering employee assistance programs (EAP) to workers.
This could be stipends for mental health providers or covering gym memberships.
EAP services include assessments, counseling, and referrals for additional services to employees with personal and/or work-related concerns, such as stress, financial issues, legal issues, family problems, office conflicts, and alcohol and substance use disorders.
Also consider offering wellness webinars (often provided by insurance carriers), encouraging the use of the employee assistance program, and displaying workplace posters or distributing handouts on maintaining mental well-being.
And remember, the best wellness options should enable employees to nurture their well-being inside or outside the office.
3. Emphasize work-life balance
As a part of a supportive workplace culture, it’s important that employers emphasize that work-life balance is important for preserving an employee’s mental health.
Employers can’t expect that employees always show up to work 100% clear-headed and ready to dive in.
Sometimes, there are personal issues employees are dealing with.
Find ways to let employees decompress – summer Fridays is a popular way to encourage employees to sign off early.
Encourage employees to use their time off. Managers also have a responsibility for pushing the value that time off is important to use, and an employee shouldn’t feel bad about using it.
When emphasizing work-life balance, it helps to lead by example. Managers and team leaders should share with employees when they plan to take personal time for entertainment or enjoyment purposes.
4. Encourage workplace wellness
Sometimes workplace stress can happen quickly. When it does, it helps to encourage workplace wellness techniques for employees to take advantage of.
Things like deep breathing or going to a private, quiet room to gather themselves can work wonders.
Encourage employees to get outside and take a walk. Sometimes the best stress relief is sunshine and time away from the computer.
Physical activity is a proven method for stress reduction.
Other stress reduction techniques include:
- Read a book
- Listen to a podcase
- Tackle a fun side project
- Create the ultimate break room
- Work on a group puzzle
- Celebrate milestones
- Host a wellness gathering
5. Offer support on time management
Expecting employees to balance a multitude of tasks without hitting burnout is unrealistic.
As a manager, make it a point to understand what your employees’ workloads are and what’s reasonable for them.
Sometimes, time management techniques don’t come easy to employees. Help employees find what methods work best for them by encouraging an open dialogue.
To avoid burnout, it pays to help employees develop these five time management tactics:
- Set reminders for all tasks.
- Create a daily planner.
- Give each task a time limit.
- Block out distractions.
- Establish routine.
6. Offer remote work
Many companies post-pandemic have adopted a hybrid or fully remote work style. Still, there are some employees who have the option but may not feel comfortable taking it.
It’s a good idea to encourage employees to take advantage of remote work if they aren’t already. This will also allow them to flex their work schedule when they need to, which can help reduce the stress of daily responsibilities outside their day job.
Working remotely offers several stress-reduction benefits. When you’re not in the office, you don’t have to worry about gossip, office politics or having your boss look over your shoulder.
Also, you don’t have to dress for work and can wear whatever feels comfortable that day.
7. Have employees track stressors
One key to making high performance sustainable is to track stressors, and the cause of stress, in the workplace.
Job stress comes in all shapes and sizes, so it’s best to simply ask employees, through a questionnaire, about their mental health and stress levels.
For example, when employees are asked to take part in an employee survey, they may be asked if they feel low or high demands on themselves at work. They check the box that best corresponds to how they are feeling at the time.
For projects or tasks that greatly impact an employee’s mental health and create more job stress than they should, managers should encourage their employees to discuss that and be open about it.
With this approach managers can help their subordinates figure out how to manage the task and whether it requires additional resources.
Tracking stressors helps find the cause of stress much quicker.
8. Just Listen
When all else fails, sometimes the best thing a manager can do is to be quiet and listen.
Create environments for employees to feel comfortable sharing what’s bothering them. As you do this more frequently and make it a common part of the workplace, employees will open up.
Many Benefits to Helping Employees Manage Stress
Employers ignore workplace stress at their own peril. There are many benefits to helping your employees manage workplace stress.
It can improve morale and lead to increased productivity and better focus, fewer workplace injuries, fewer sick days and improved physical health (e.g., lower blood pressure, stronger immune system). All these factors can also lead to reduced turnover.