HR Management & Compliance

How Much Does Employee Stress Impact a Workplace?

Today we are joined by Laurie Warren, MSN, and founder of Warren Wellness LLC to answer some questions about stress in the workplace. Laurie will be leading a session at TalentCon19 in San Antonio, TX on March 13, 2019, entitled “Fostering Stress Resilience to Unlock Workforce Potential.”

Q: Why does employee stress matter to a company’s success?

It’s important to first define stress. In a word, stress results from perceived adversity. If the perceived adversity is an extremely short-term event, like being grabbed by a mugger, or seeing an oncoming car veer into our driving lane, I call this survival stress and the related biochemical and neurological stress responses in our body can be helpful and life-saving. If the adversity is an important meeting that we’re preparing for over a matter of days or weeks, I call this challenge stress and our heightened energy and drive that results from those related biochemical and neurological responses can assist us if our inner approach is positive and our attitude is one of “can-do.” The attitude with challenge stress is that a stressor isn’t something to be endured or that might take us down, but is something that can help us grow.

However, what most people suffer from is psychological stress, where the perceived challenge is one or many long-term situations where they feel helpless – a colleague that we work closely with that we find personally challenging, a company culture that isn’t aligned with our personal values, a sick family member, balancing work and family life, on-going personal financial issues, or world politics. The list is long and unfortunately our biochemistry and resulting physiological and neurological responses are exactly the same whether the perceived adversity is a) a mugger, b) an aging parent with Alzheimer’s or 3) continual discord among coworkers.

Psychological stress, also sometimes called “chronic stress,” is a problem for the stressed person, and it’s also a problem for the people and groups that the stressed person is involved with – family, friends, and the workplace. Science has shown that a person with unmanaged psychological stress is likely to be less healthy, productive, creative, emotionally stable, and focused. For a company, this results in increased sick time, increased presenteeism, more discord and misunderstandings in teams, reduced productivity, reduced work quality, and increased health care costs over time.

Q: What is the difference between stress management and stress resilience in the workplace?

Both are important. Think of stress management as the maintenance that you do on your car. In the same way that regular oil changes, filling the gas tank, and changing the various filters in the engine keep the engine running well, stress management tactics keep our body and mind running well. This can include lifestyle habits such as eating more nutrient-dense foods, getting adequate sleep, and participating in exercise, yoga, and/or deep breathing.

Stress resilience is equivalent to making sure you have a well-built car. For cars, this means superior craftmanship; and for people, this means becoming a more conscious steward of the mind. It’s the cultivation of a different relationship both to time and to life events, which reduces psychological stress and turns some of it into the more healthy challenge stress. This can include meditation, mindfulness training such as MBSR, and training specific to what I call Mind Savvy®.

Q: How should employers be thinking about stress resilience in the workplace?

Think of stress resilience dialogue and training as an important facet of your company mission: “We strive to develop stress-resilient employees who are supported in bringing their best self to the achievement of our company goals.”

Q: How can employers strategically include stress-related employee wellbeing initiatives into their overall benefits?

The hiring of a quality consultant to co-create a progressive wellness culture should be an integral part of creating annual benefit budgets. Research shows a ROI of between 1:1 to 1:3 for comprehensive wellness programming (as opposed to silo programs), which makes it a no-lose endeavor. Even if the ROI comes out as 1:1, you’ve still created a wellness culture that builds healthy, happy employees, allowing you to attract, develop, and retain top talent for your company. Many benefits companies will reimburse for part or all of these initiatives, as they know that your employee cohort will be healthier, resulting in lower health insurance claims.

Q: What’s one nugget of wisdom you can share with us before your session at TalentCon about how employers can foster a successful wellness culture?

The answer is the commonly quipped “it starts at the top.” Creating an open dialogue about stress management and stress resilience – not as a scapegoat but as an area for positive change – needs to come from company leaders who are also champions for wellness. It needs to be a natural part of everyday discussion about how to be our best, most happy selves at work.

Laurie will be leading a session at TalentCon19 in San Antonio, TX on March 13, 2019, entitled “Fostering Stress Resilience to Unlock Workforce Potential.”