According to Perkbox, more than 59 per cent of UK adults feels stressed or very stressed by their work; just 9 per cent say that they do not feel any stress at work at all. But stress isn’t just an unpleasant experience: it’s something that can take a severe toll on a person’s mental and physical health.
The Mental Health Foundation says that 32 per cent of adults had suicidal ideations because of stress and more than 16 per cent self-harmed as a way of coping. Seventy-four per cent said that they had felt so stressed in the last year that they struggled to function.
Stress takes its toll on the body physically too. Research suggests that people who are chronically stressed experience a shortening of their telomeres – the shoelace-like end caps that protect the chromosomes. People with shorter telomeres age faster, suffer more chronic disease and die younger. Stress, therefore, can kill.
Stress doesn’t just take its toll on individuals, but on companies too. Small and medium-sized businesses feel the effects of stress most severely. When an employee or executive can no longer work because of stress, the financial position of the firm can weaken quickly, orders can go unfulfilled, and the business can eventually sink. The affected person can also see a decline in their income, harming their mental health further.
According to a study by Norwich Union Healthcare, more than half of all new income protection claims can now be linked with stress. Rising claims, according to the NUH study, is becoming a big issue to insurers. More than 30 per cent of claims now includes some reference to anxiety or depression.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at five ways that companies, managers and individuals can manage stress in the workplace. If we can lower stress levels, we can have potentially healthier and happier lives, both in and out of work.
Google is on the frontlines in the battle against stress, developing innovative strategies to help employees cope with the demands placed on them. The California-based search giant is trying to tackle the pandemic of anxiety and long-hours head on through a programme of mindfulness, one in which the company offers employees Zen-centric classes while they’re on the job, whenever they feel like they need a stress-busting session.
The company helps employees achieve greater mental wellbeing through a variety of methods. First, there are daily meditation classes across more than 35 of the company’s offices. There’s also an in-house community the company calls “gPause” which connects people in a meditative social support network. The company also hosts mindful eating sessions and occasionally sends workers away on retreats.
Google’s philosophy is that you can’t take the stress out of life: there will always be things that appear threatening. But what you can do is get creative with how you deal with stress. The less stressed people are, the more they’ll be able to get into positive working states, achieve “flow,” and be the best versions of themselves.
Sitting in a cramped office all day long with little movement is enough to make anyone a little cranky. That’s why companies like Appster have started offering employees opportunities during the working day to do something fun that allows them to blow off steam, helping them to feel refreshed when they return to the office.
Appster wants to improve the employee environment and show that it cares by providing workers with things like outings and group activities that involve some form of physical activity – a great stress reliever.
The company also offers something that many managers will find controversial: Friday night happy-hour venting sessions. These sessions take the form of a no-holds-barred forum in which employees can voice any complaints that they have about the company or the people with whom they work. Co-founder of the company, Mark McDonald, says that all 380 of his employees are free to share their feelings in the weekly vent report. It’s better, he says, for people to go home having let off steam than it is for them to spend their weekend stressed out because of something that happened at work.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is becoming an increasingly popular intervention for people who feel stressed out by work. Unlike psychotherapy, which focuses on a person’s history, childhood and relationships with caregivers, cognitive behavioural therapy concentrates on strategies to manage anxieties and other pressures “in the moment.” A key person can build up a mental toolkit that helps them deal with stressful situations as and when they arise.
Many companies are already experimenting with CBT to help workers improve the working week. Instead of hiring a therapist to come to the company and deliver individual sessions (which could be expensive), firms are now providing employees with online therapy sessions, either one-on-one or in groups, to help reduce daily anxieties.
Research suggests that people who help other people through acts of service experience lower levels of overall stress than those who don’t. According to Professor Cooper of the University of Lancaster, assisting people in a less fortunate position helps employees to see that they are actually the lucky ones. It gives them a sense of perspective that can change the way that they react to stress. Sure, it might be unpleasant that a client is shouting at them down the phone, but at least they’re not living hand-to-mouth.
Finally, employers can improve employee benefits and reduce health insurance costs by encouraging wellness. Firms, for instance, can provide highly nutritious meals in their canteens which will help employees concentrate and improve overall health, or offer some kind of physical activity on-site, whether a gym, exercise room, or something else.
By managing stress in the workplace, you treat your employees better who, in turn, will be grateful to you for your support, improving retention and cutting churn.