Workplace stress is a problem. According to a survey by Northwestern National Life, 40% of workers report that their job is very stressful, and 25% say their job is the primary stressor in their lives. And nearly half of employees say they need help learning to manage stress.
Whether stress originates in the workplace or elsewhere, it can affect employee performance. Elevated stress levels increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders, workplace injuries, cancer, suicide, and more. That means higher healthcare expenditures (by about 50%) for workers who report high levels of stress. It also means more missed work. The number of employees calling in sick because of stress tripled from 1996 to 2000. All told, job stress is estimated to cost U.S. employers more than $300 billion annually as the result of accidents, absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, medical costs, and workers’ compensation awards.
So, what can employers do to help employees manage stress before it becomes a problem? Here are four simple ideas.
- Make time to breathe. Sometimes taming stress is as easy as taking a step back and catching your breath. Giving employees opportunities to take quick breaks at their desk allows them to gather themselves and feel more under control. Those breaks can go a long way toward making the day feel less hectic and squashing small stressors before they become overwhelming. Several apps are currently available, including virtual, on-demand fitness options, that offer short exercises or classes to help individuals focus on their breath and let their workday stressors fade into the background.
- Focus on food. Who hasn’t downed a bag of chips or a sleeve of Oreo® cookies when they were having a particularly stressful day? Stress eating is real, and people are unlikely to make healthy food choices when a particularly challenging day drives them to the vending machine. Education is one solution. If employees realize how stress triggers appetite, they can slow down and understand exactly why they suddenly crave a candy bar. People still may want to eat, though. In that case, making healthy food choices prominent around the office makes it more likely that people whose emotions are fueling their appetite will at least have options that are good for them.
- Allow employees to recharge. Modern employees have access to wonderful tools that allow them to stay connected to the office day and night, but those tools can also create a problem. For some, that means never getting away from work. And if we can’t leave work, we can’t focus on home life. The challenges that caused stress all day at work continue to cause stress through the night. In some cases, employers have instituted a ban on work e-mails over the weekend to give employees a chance to completely unplug and refresh themselves so they can return at full speed on Monday.
- Find time for exercise. Exercise is a powerful tool for managing stress. Physical activity boosts endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. It also forces the brain to focus on something other than what’s been causing stress. Finally, regular exercise can increase self-confidence, boost relaxation, and improve sleep, all of which help combat stress. Assess your wellness offerings to be sure you’re giving employees ways to exercise at the office, at home, or on the road.
Depending on the job, some level of workplace stress is probably unavoidable. Deadlines and a desire to do good work create expectations that employees work hard to meet. But with the right tools in place, stress doesn’t have to become a health risk. With a few simple tweaks, the workplace can help employees deal with stress to become happier, healthier, and more productive.
Jason Von Bank is President and CEO of Wellbeats, a content and software-as-a-service company that delivers on-demand, virtual fitness programming for corporate wellness programs. Wellbeats is committed to delivering “fitness that fits” through more than 400 fitness classes that can be accessed anytime through iOS, Android, Windows devices, Apple TV, website portal, or on-site options. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.