Between the upcoming holiday season and the end-of-year push at work, your organization may see rising stress levels among employees soon. This stress can have major impacts on individual, team and business performance (not to mention insurance premiums). In fact, Sy Islam, Ph.D., assistant professor at Farmingdale State University and a consultant at Talent Metrics, says stress can cost organizations at least $400 per employee per year. Sarah Romotsky, head of health and science strategy at Headspace Inc., says stress-related illnesses cause businesses $200 to $300 billion per year in lost productivity.
Stress can manifest in several problems at work, including lower productivity and morale and higher absenteeism and turnover. Conversely, David Brendel, MD, Ph.D., partner at Camden Consulting Group, says, “Psychological safety in the workplace is one of the best predictors of high team performance.”
“As more and more employees look to cultivate better behaviors in how they work, live and play,” says Sarah Deane, founder of effectUX, “organizations have a responsibility to support their employees and create environments that enable healthy habits.” Fortunately, there are several strategies L&D can use to help employees manage stress at work.
Mindfulness and Stress Management Training
Stress reduction, wellness and mindfulness training programs are good ways to help employees manage stress, Brendel says, but “these programs should not be band aids over an underlying toxic corporate culture.” Lisa Sansom, MBA, MAPP, PCC, an organizational development consultant and trainer, agrees: “If the environment is toxic, then this training will be disingenuous and ineffective. Organizations need to look at the systems and holistic workplace, not just individual employee skills and responsibilities vis à vis stress management.”
Joy Rains, a mindfulness trainer and author of “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind” and “Ignite Your Sales Power! Mindfulness for Sales Professionals,” recently conducted a study investigating the impact of mindfulness programs she led in four different companies. She found that after the programs, participants reported significant differences in skills such as the ability to reduce stress, the ability to envision positive outcomes, the ability to “envision positive outcomes” and recognize opportunity.
Providing mindfulness and related training to leaders, especially, can make an impact across the organization. Leaders arguably have more stressors and may need more help managing stress, but mindfulness training can also enable them to model stress management and help them improve their relationships with their employees, causing a trickle-down effect.
Good training programs, says Sansom, “are rooted in psychological science (such as positive psychology) and have active participative components.” They help employees develop their own habits and routines that work for them, and they support ongoing development.
Other Wellness Programs
Libby Mullen, learning and development manager at BizLibrary, notes that it’s important to educate employees on stress itself, as “not all stress is a bad thing.” At healthy levels, stress can support productivity and growth. Being able to identify positive and negative stress is the first step in managing it. She adds that providing training to managers in emotional intelligence and communication can help mitigate stressors due to poor management, and training employees in active listening, anger management, communication and conflict resolution can mitigate stressors from co-workers.
Dave Ramsey, CEO of Ramsey Solutions, advises organizations to provide financial wellness programs to their employees. “Employees are stressed out about money, and they’re not leaving those worries at home,” he says. “It is the number one reason workers lose focus and become less productive.” Susan Power, owner of Power HR Inc., echoes Ramsey, saying, “The top reason for employee mental health claims [is] … financial stress.” Particularly at this time of year, personal financial management training can help employees’ wellness.
Creating a culture that supports work/life blending is key, says Val Grubb, principal at Val Grubb & Associates and career coach at TONE Networks. “Work/life balance is just not possible,” but work/life blending is. Policies such as flexible work hours and programs such as employee assistance programs, exercise and fitness opportunities, wellness screenings, and even volunteering can also help, say Brendel and Grubb.
Overall, says Islam, “match the [program] with the type of stress. If stress is related to too much work, then the job may need to be redesigned. If it’s related to employees’ being unable to deal with the stress, then time management, mindfulness or stress management training may be the best option.” Similarly, Deane says that by first identifying what’s causing stress and which behaviors need to change, “we have seen sustained changes … with participants reporting better awareness, lower levels of stress and feelings of overwhelm, better relationships, and higher levels of productivity and positivity.”
Finally, make sure you have clear objectives when it comes to all of your wellness programs. Define what success will look like, and measure both stress levels and outcomes like productivity and employee satisfaction and retention. That way, you’ll know if your programs are working – and whether you need to change them.