7 Ways to Minimize Worker Stress and Promote Well-being
Our job contributes significantly to the stress we experience. In fact, career and workplace stress are serious issues that affect not only individuals but also entire economies. Some studies claim that workplace stress has cost the economy as much as $300 billion in absenteeism, medical expenses, and workers compensation claims. We were already dealing with a mental health crisis when it comes to today’s working environment.
Then, the pandemic hit, and workplace stress became another piece in a complicated scheme of things to worry about. Now, along with the usual pressures of performing well at work, people are nervous about having a job to do at all. People worry about keeping their job, getting sick, helping ill or aging family members, balancing childcare, etc. With everyone just trying to stay afloat in this tough time, how can you make things easier for your teams? By investing in proper measures in place to help their staff manage stress. Businesses where employees are healthier—mentally, financially, and physically—are more productive with lower healthcare costs.
In your plan, you need to account for the fact that our “normal” has changed, and things will never be the same. Whether you’re already at work or returning soon, it is time to implement employee wellness initiatives that are designed to minimize stress, improve productivity, reduce attrition, and foster a sense of loyalty.
The impact of COVID-19 on worker well-being
Chances are your employees are managing some hurdles on the home front while also being worried about their jobs. Here are a few unique challenges that workers face today:
1. Adjusting and managing different workloads, roles, or responsibilities:
If you have gone down to a “skeleton crew,” people might be taking on more work to close the gap. People may be performing new tasks due to fill the skill gap in the current team makeup.
2. Adapting to a different workspace or a new schedule:
Many people who can work remotely are now doing so. In some cases, this means their home or a shared workspace.
3. Acclimating to new communication methods and tools and/or changed workplace policies and procedures:
Remote employees are reliant on tools that enable virtual meetings and communication, and people who are working in-person have new policies and procedures that make work safe. All of these transitions take time to get used to.
4. Balancing work responsibilities with familial or caregiving roles:
Parents are homeschooling children, and many individuals are helping out aging parents while juggling a full-time job.
5. Managing concerns about the future of your workplace or their employment:
With over 160,000 businesses closing their doors permanently due to COVID-19 in the U.S., employees are anxious about their employer’s future and their employment.
6. Considering financial concerns due to reduced hours, extended time away from work, or unemployment periods:
Along with anxiety about their workplace’s future, employees experience concern about their financial future in light of closures, smaller paychecks, etc.
It’s easy to see why individuals are more stressed than ever before. The fact is, business leaders are responsible for doing their part to reduce worker stress and promote mental well-being. Here’s how you can help.
How to reduce worker stress and promote mental well-being
1. Facilitate workplace wellness
Exercise and generally healthy living are two of the biggest weapons against workplace stress. Not only does it keep people healthier, but exercise has also been proven to reduce anxiety and improve focus. Furthermore, exercise releases feel-good endorphins! Healthy eating helps too.
A study by Peapod.com reported that 66% of employees felt extremely or very happy when their employer regularly stocked the refrigerator and cupboards, and 83% said that having healthy and fresh snack options was a huge perk.
- Encourage short walks during breaks
- Offer subsidized gym memberships
- Host events like a yoga class once a month
- Use fitness trackers to hold step contests
- Offer healthy snacks in the office
2. Implement open communication
Unfortunately, most employees’ workplace stress comes from their boss. Research has linked employees having a negative relationship with their supervisor to issues like sleep problems, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Take that information to heart and seek out management classes that tackle leadership development or personal coaching. Give managers the tools to communicate with employees positively and constructively.
3. Offer paid time off
Several studies have found that nearly 55% of Americans do not take allowed vacation time - but they should. Time off is known to improve mental health, heart health, and even relationships. No matter the size of your company, make it a priority to offer employees paid time off (PTO) so that they can relax, rejuvenate, and come back happier and more productive. Track time off, and if you notice employees haven’t taken any, encourage them to.
4. Encourage employees to take breaks
Employee burnout is a concern for many industries, but some sectors experience a more competitive and stressful environment. For example, this Forbes article talks about stress within the technology industry and its adverse impact on workers. Some of the research cited unreasonable workloads and too much overtime as partial culprits. Regardless of your industry, it’s essential to encourage your team to hit pause once in a while. If your employees are overloaded and continually sacrificing their leisure time to meet deadlines, it might be time to reconsider their workload, hire more employees, or revise expectations.
5. Consider flexible work schedules
Flexibility was already becoming a highly sought-after trait in hiring companies. As one manager said in a Flexjobs article, “How people work or want to work is very unique and personal to them.” If any of your employees have children or an elder parent in need, the demands of work and home life can quickly become overwhelming.
Allowing employees to have a flexible work schedule will give them time to take care of the people they love, and in turn, will enable them to be more present at work while they're there. Similarly, if your employees can work remotely, consider implementing days where they can work at home if that would be helpful. Modern communication tools like Slack and Google Hangouts can help keep the communication lines open.
6. Regularly collect data on workplace stress and employee health
Listening to employees is crucial. One way you can do that is to conduct regular employee surveys. Make sure you share the results of these surveys company-wide and take action on your learnings. Organizations should collect data regularly to analyze the relationship between organizational culture(s), workplace conditions, and health/performance outcomes. You need to understand the links between these variables in your local culture to figure out how to best target your worker well-being initiatives.
7. Create a work environment in which people feel cared for and connected
Now more than ever, people want to feel like their employer cares about them and wants to keep them safe and healthy. Implement programs around safety not just because it creates a more productive environment but also out of genuine interest in the well-being of the people you rely on.
One of the best ways to harbor a sense of safety and community during these difficult times is by adopting digital solutions to protect employees in the workplace. While dealing with COVID-19, these tools can help you quickly identify and track at-risk individuals and eliminate risks early on.
With this measure in place, employers can instill much-needed confidence in the workforce. Furthermore, automated contact tracing benefits can improve your overall business functions. Ensuring worker safety can also go a long way in reducing stress.
For example, Courchesne-Larose, a Montreal-based food distributor, was able to act quickly when an employee came into contact with a positive COVID case in their private circle. By investing in an automated contact tracing solution, Courchesne-Larose could pull the affected employee’s contact reports and isolate any at-risk individuals, preventing an outbreak. Not only did Safeteams save the company time and resources, but it also assured every employee that the organization had the processes in place to protect them from exposure.
It’s a common theme right now because it’s true: we’re all in this together. Each of us needs to do what we can to manage the virus and our mental health. Your employees are relying on you to implement safety and wellness measures that they can depend on.