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Helping Employees Deal With Stress

September 13th, 2021

Employees still struggle with stress – despite the supposed return to normal.

In fact, some mental health experts say it’s staggering to employees. According to Mental Health America’s Mind in the Workplace report:

  • 83% of employees experience early signs of burnout
  • 25% of employees experience the most severe signs of burnout, which include poorer performance, cynicism toward colleagues and apathy for the workplace, and
  • 71% of employees say workplace stress affects their mental health.

“But there is hope because so much of what is contributing to employee stress can be addressed,” said Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America. “Employers can make employee mental health a priority. They can encourage people to talk about it. They can build supports for both in-person, hybrid, and fully remote workforces.”

Here are six ways to help employees fight back and/or beat stress:

Normalize mental health

Encourage employees to make their wellness a priority.

That’s what Target recently did to help employees recognize and manage excessive stress. It was especially important after front-line employees worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.

To amp up resources, Target:

  • offered special programming, forums, expert guest speakers and training throughout one month to give employees tangible tips and advice
  • offered up to five free counseling sessions per year to employees and their household members
  • provided counseling resources on many topics that lead to stress, such as managing finances and finding childcare, and
  • gave access to more online resources and apps, such as:
    • Daylight, which helps people learn and practice stress-reducing strategies
    • Sleepio, which helps improve sleep, and
    • Grokker, a fitness and well-being app for exercise, nutrition and meditation.

Stress Survival Skills

Turn on tunes

Turns out, tunes help.

Employees in a recent Sound United survey said listening to music helped with stress. In particular, 85% said it helps them stay sane! Nearly 90% said music improves their energy levels. Others say music boosts their productivity and greatly decreases loneliness since many are working remotely.

“It’s clearer now than ever before that for many Americans, music is more than just a hobby; it’s a lifeline,” said Kevin Duffy, CEO of Sound United.

If your employees are looking for the ideal sound, let them know pop music was the No. 1 genre for boosting productivity and morale, followed by classical and jazz.

Get employees moving more

One of the easiest and most accessible ways to reduce stress and burnout from work is to walk away from work – especially when employees feel overwhelmed by the demand.

Research compiled by The American Institute of Stress showed:

  • Being outside can reduce feelings of time pressure and stress
  • Taking a break from routine to be outdoors boosts creativity, productivity and focus
  • Breaking up work with outdoor exercise can help alleviate stress and chronic exhaustion, and
  • Being outdoors – anything from a stroll to a hike to a run – can improve overall mood and self-esteem.

So try to encourage and incorporate more time outdoors when possible. Managers might hold walking meetings when it’s just two or three people (who are willing, of course).

Set up outdoor seating where employees can meet or take their breaks.

Give employees the time and resources – perhaps through your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – to create more opportunities for outdoor activities. They might organize walking or running groups. Or maybe they’ll bring in outdoor Yoga or meditation instruction.

Stress Survival Skills

Create quiet zones

For some people, the best cure to stress and burnout is to find – and thrive in – a quiet place. But those are often difficult to find at work – even when employees work remotely.

You might help them by designating a conference room or office space that’s meant solely for quiet work, meditation or relaxation.

Beyond quiet space, give employees time to be quiet. Some organizations have “no meeting days” so employees don’t have to interact one day a week. Others allow employees to have “do not disturb” hours.

Practice preventive maintenance

Stress and burnout come at different degrees. On Scott Eblin’s, not-so-scientific scale, there’s Singed, Fried and Extra Crispy.

We’ve already shared some tips for the Fried and Extra Crispy type – they need more immediate attention. Elbin, author of Overworked and Overwhelmed, suggests some preventative maintenance tips for employees just Singed in burnout.

  • Start a journal. Write just a few minutes a day – perhaps at the end of work – about wins, concerns, losses and gratitude. It gets work thoughts off your mind to make room for the things you enjoy. Also, it can help you identify problem and solution patterns.
  • Read or listen differently. Pick up a book or turn on a podcast that’s outside your usual work and personal interests. It can take your mind away from stressors and broaden your view on everything.
  • Take a longer view. Remember, everything doesn’t have to be done right now. Or it doesn’t have to be done perfectly right now. Don’t pretend everything is all right. Accept that many times well enough is enough.

Give managers guidance

Stress and burnout are sometimes precursors to more severe issues – depression and even suicide, according to recent research from Catapult Health.

“There’s no doubt that the American workforce has faced a wave of mental health challenges over the past year, but what we’ve learned is that COVID-19 wasn’t the spark – only that it forced many to confront a nationwide crisis already underway,” said David Michel, Chairman and CEO of Catapult Health. “We found that rates of depression have increased in all segments of the population since 2018, especially among the least healthy and most overweight.”

One way to help employees before they become depressed is train managers to identify issues. As Catapult experts say, the difference between an employee having a bad day, feeling stressed or being depressed are subtle and nuanced.

If you train managers to identify issues through listening and observation techniques, they can direct employees to helpful resources.

Michele McGovern

Michele McGovern is a journalist with decades of experience working for local and national newspapers, business publications and websites. She has covered the HR, customer service and sales fields for more than 20 years, writing everything from white papers for upper-level executives to daily online posts for practitioners.

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