Today, November 2nd, is International Stress Awareness Day, a day established by the International Stress Management Association falling on the first Wednesday of November.
Employers don’t need a reminder that stress is a major factor impacting employee engagement and productivity. They’re well aware that stress is a constant, and one that has been on the rise since the pandemic emerged in 2020. But more than a reminder, International Stress Awareness Day can serve as a wake-up call for organizations to not just acknowledge that stress exists, but to take steps to do something about it.
There are a variety of ways that organizations can support employees in stressful situations. And, in fact, some organizations are developing new employee engagement strategies to do just that.
Surgeon General Issues a Call to Action
The surgeon general, for instance, recently warned that “abusive or cutthroat workplaces may be harmful to human health” and offered suggestions on what employers can do to shift their cultures to better protect employees’ mental and physical health. He recommends “five essentials” that employers should focus on to ensure employee mental health and wellbeing: “protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunity for growth.”
These factors are closely aligned with the top reasons American workers are leaving their jobs.
A Pew Research Center survey of employees who quit in 2021 found they cited low pay, lack of opportunity for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work as the top three issues that drove them away—issues that were reported by more than half of those who quit.
Low pay is closely tied to the concept of providing employees with a “living wage.” Almost one third of American workers make less than $15 an hour. Low pay drives other sources of stress, of course, from concerns about paying bills, to familial stress, and more.
In addition to focusing on providing better pay, the surgeon general’s guidance suggests that employers “should offer training and mentoring, foster inclusion and equity, and give workers more autonomy over ‘how, when, and where work is done’.” Taking actions like these is key to both employee recognition and reducing employee turnover.
In a piece in The Washington Post, Dennis Stolle, senior director of the American Psychological Association’s office of applied psychology, said: “We need the employers to use [their] power and to take action.” If not, he said, “change isn’t going to come.”
Forbes Technology Council member Nitish Shrivastava suggests that a holistic approach is needed. It’s an approach that Shrivastava cautions cannot be one-size-fits-all. “With a diversity of workplace patterns, behavior and outcomes, there is a diversity of needs and challenges to address,” he says.
For organizations, addressing the impacts of stress also is in their own best interests. Stress can impact productivity. Taking steps to minimize or eliminate stress can have a positive impact on the bottom line, as well as team culture.
With International Stress Awareness Day providing a wake-up call for all employers, here are some steps you can take to help reduce stress for employees—not just on November 2, but on every day of the year.
Helping Employees Reduce Work-Related Stress
Here are a number of actions your company can take to help minimize work-related stress.
- Make sure you’re paying your employees a living wage—foundationally crucial for stress management, and that your benefits offer value and support. This is not only critical for employee appreciation, but also for building a positive team culture.
- Incentivize taking breaks. Build breaks into employees’ schedules and set the stage by taking breaks yourselves. Managers’ actions speak volumes.
- Encourage walking meetings. Walking meetings not only provide a break, but the added benefit of physical activity—and when outside in the sunshine, a dose of Vitamin D.
- Encourage activity throughout the day. Encourage employees to get outside, stretch, do yoga—and just move their bodies. Harvard Health Publishing tells us that “exercise reduces stress hormones and stimulates production of endorphins, which together foster relaxation.”
- Have monthly wellness challenges. At Inspirus, for instance, employees engage in a variety of monthly challenges related to healthy eating, budgeting, exercising, and more. Employees are encouraged to track different habits and awarded points in Connects, that they can then use to claim gifts.
- Give employees added mental health days. For example, at Inspirus employees were given the Friday before Columbus Day off, providing them with a four-day weekend.
At Spotify, which was at the top of Newsweek’s America’s Most Loved Workplaces list, employees enjoy a “Wellness Week”—the company shuts down and employees are “encouraged to take time off from deadlines and monthly targets and concentrate on themselves, and recharge.”
Not all companies can be quite that generous, of course. But there are still gestures – big and small- you can take. For example, offer one extra wellness day a month, a quarter, or a year—or give employees a stress relief package, gift card, or some other small, yet impactful, sign that lets them know you care. Actions like these go a long way and show managers how to build a team culture of appreciation.
It’s easy to forget about the importance of stress management. Reminders like International Stress Awareness can help companies remember. So can tools like Connects. Connects helps reassure employees that they’re doing a good job and that they’re appreciated and valued by giving them recognition and rewards for their efforts. Connects can take the stress off managers and supervisors, too, by automating certain tasks, giving them easy access to data on the health of the organization and sending reminders about major employee work and personal milestones.Using Connects unifies employee communication, which is paramount when determining how to improve team culture.
Stress management is crucial to the employee experience, employee motivation, and tenure. Stress leads to burnout which impacts employees’ physical and mental health and wellbeing. Shrivastava’s research “concluded that organizations that undertake initiatives that encourage tailored sustainable work habits along with health-based improvements” worked to drive engagement and wellness. Couple those benefits with evidence to show how engaged employees can be productive employees and it’s clear that a focus on minimizing stress can make an important difference.