Employees need your help. The issue at hand is the stress. HR likely feels it, too. So you’re in the position to spearhead well-being improvements this year.
Nearly 80% of employees say workplace stress affects their relationships with family, friends and co-workers, according to Mental Health America’s Mind the Workplace Report.
HR and other company leaders can’t ignore the stress or minimize how it impacts employees and the overall workplace.
“Stress and stress-related mental and physical health issues are linked to decreased productivity and engagement which can increase absenteeism, presenteeism and labor turnover,” says Dr. Anna Mandeville, consultant, clinical psychologist and clinical director at Koa Health. “While some levels of stress can be considered a motivator to get things done, when stress is too intense or too frequent, it can become a health risk – both for individuals and the businesses that employ them.”
To help improve your organization’s well-being, here are four tips and strategies to handle the stress in 2023.
Acknowledge the stress
You can’t fix – or help alleviate – stress if you don’t acknowledge that it exists and affects employees in and outside of work. The more leaders admit that they’re stressed, and sometimes struggle to handle or alleviate it, the more comfortable front-line employees will be doing the same.
Once you make it normal to talk about stress and well-being, and ask for help, the sooner employees will access your tools to help.
HR-lead initiatives to keep employees informed will help. But don’t feel everything around stress and well-being needs to be so serious.
It’s a video series with the CEO and chief wellness officer, taking a satirical look at how the company defines its culture, current initiatives and its emphasis on holistic employee well-being. It’s meant to breaks the stigma around talking about mental health.
What’s more, follow-up initiatives include virtual meditation classes and “Dream Circles” – where employees come together in groups with the wellness officer to connect, support and share strategies to help everyone achieve dreams.
Focus on compassion
We’ve all seen stress-busting practices such as meditation, conscious breathing and yoga. They work for some people, but not everyone has the desire or ability to react to stress with those deliberate actions.
That’s why Mandeville suggests employers take steps to build more compassion in the workplace – so employees experience less angst and conflict, which lay the ground for the stress.
“There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that working in supportive teams with clear goals dramatically lowers stress,” Mandeville says. “The good news is compassion is a behavior, and it can be learned.”
To help employees learn compassion, give them tools and time to:
- listen and be present with each other (especially managers to direct reports)
- ask questions until they understand other people’s perspectives
- empathize with others, and
- help each other when they need it.
Make sleep a serious conversation
While you can’t tell employees to go to bed like tired children, you can at least arm them with knowledge about the importance of sleep in controlling stress.
About 40% of people who don’t get enough sleep feel even more stressed, according to American Psychological Association research.
“It is possible to help condition your body to know when it’s time to rest,” says Dr. Jaime Tartar, a neuroscience expert and member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s (NASM) Certified Wellness Coach program.
Tartar shares her top three tips to pass along:
- Reduce exposure to blue light: Avoid looking at screens at least an hour before bed. Why? The blue light prevents the release of melatonin, which helps you fall and stay asleep.
- Reduce your body temperature: It’s counterintuitive, but drinking hot tea or taking a warm bath or shower can help reduce the body temperature, which helps improve the quality of rest.
- Establish a routine: When you create a routine – perhaps by dimming the lights, putting the phone down or taking a warm shower – your body might begin to recognize the signals that it’s time to rest.
Eliminate the regrets
One-third of employees regret working too much in 2022, according to the Human Workplace Index. And a quarter of them regret not setting boundaries.
Many employees felt they couldn’t separate from work enough last year, regardless of whether they actually could or not.
Much of the problem of over-working stems from misaligned expectations. Employees at all levels believe they’re supposed to meet goals that don’t exist or show up extra, thinking it’s the only way to get ahead.
The more front-line managers and HR can put in policy or practice, the less likely employees will stress over their boundaries. For instance, you might create mandatory time-off, after-hour email and maximum-hours-worked policies.
And front-line managers can host a regular cadence of check-ins to ensure their employees’ work efforts align with the actual expectations.
“A workforce with stronger mental well-being is more likely to have stronger morale, greater productivity, and reduced sick leave and staff churn,” says Nicola Hemmings, Head of Workplace Psychology at Koa Health.