11 ways to reduce workplace stress levels for employees

What causes workplace stress?

Long hours, high workloads, increased demands, worries about job security and intense working environments all play a role in contributing towards workplace stress. 

Wysa’s Employee Mental Health Report drawn from the analysis of 150,000 conversations that 11,300 employees from 11 organizations and 60 countries had with Wysa’s AI chat platform, over thirteen months (July 2021-July 2022) shows 32% of employees expressed feeling low, bad, numb, depressed, and sad throughout the day and 75% of employees reported low to moderate energy on average during throughout the day. All of which contribute to feelings of stress in the workplace.

And the research from All Worked Up paints a similar picture. Three quarters (76%) of US employees get stressed about work, with one in five of them most stressed most the night before they start their working week. Only one in five (19%) reported that they feel comfortable taking a mental health day whendaywhen their mental health or stress gets too much they feelmuch feel comfortable taking a mental health day, with most carrying on regardless. 

It is essential that we reduce employee stress in order to help all workers live a healthy and productive life, both at work and home. 

Impact of increased workplace stress

Absenteeism and presenteeism

When employee stress gets too much it becomes difficult to attend work and carry out their duties, resulting in employees needing to take time off. They might start to become absent from work on a more frequent basis or take a long period of time off. But controversially, it’s turning up even when you are feeling stressed anyway that might be the problem. Presenteeism – when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace because of an illness or other condition is a huge issue, and in the UK is estimated to cost £92bn a year, according to a study by Mercer. The Economist says that it costs US employers $150 billion a year in lost productivity. Different figures, but the implication is clear – the costs are high. 

Decreased employee productivity

When stress levels are high we’re not at our best. Unmanaged stress has negative consequences on all elements of our life, including mental wellbeing, physical health and productivity. A lack of productivity doesn’t just mean that employees can’t get the work done in the best way, but also results in feelings of failure and lack of confidence. When we are unproductive we get frustrated and are unable to recognize achievements, which perpetuates stress and lack of ability to complete tasks.

Increased employee burnout

Stress has a number of physical implications, such as high blood pressure, fatigue and headaches. Again, it means that employees are not operating at their best.  In a 2018 study, the UK-based Mental Health Foundation found that “74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.” And when coping becomes impossible, that’s when burnout happens. Signs of burnout include fatigue, exhaustion, lack of productivity, changes in mood and physical health implications. In fact it can have a profound effect on brain function and cognitive ability, according to research. It is therefore crucial to reduce stress before it becomes chronic stress and results in an employee burning out. 

High employee turnover

No one wants to work in a stressful environment. When employee stress gets too much, employees are more likely to leave the company. Poor mental health is one of the highest predictors of an employee leaving the company, and one of the reasons often cited by those leaving due to The Great Resignation was a lack of focus on workplace wellbeing and poor work life balance.

11 ways to reduce workplace stress

1. Offer mental health benefits through EAP services or workplace wellness programs

A clear part of reducing stress is a focus on mental health. Organizations are waking up to the fact that their employee assistance programs must incorporate both physical and mental wellbeing. Our research shows that as many as 4 in 10 employees suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety, yet less than 7% access EAP due to stigma, lack of awareness and time constraints. While talking to Wysa, 42% of employees opened up about their declining mental health. A comprehensive health insurance policy that with workforce access across the board will help people manage both minor and major stressors before they get too much, and acts a safety net for people struggling.

2. Encourage employees to take breaks

Essential to managing work stress is having a company culture that prioritizes breaks. Not only does taking a break make people feel better, but it means that when back at desks they are  refreshed rejuvenated and thus able to be more productive and effective. Studies show that taking a lunch break can result in better long term recovery from stress. It can be a five minute stress reliever through a few stretches or having a lunch break with colleagues – whatever people need to make themselves feel that they are back at their best. Make it a workplace norm to take breaks and annual leave days regularly  normal to take vacation days and inform leaders that they should not be asking employees to complete tasks on their leave days so that they can be allowing employees to take their paid time off and  fully engage in what they choose to do on their day off.enjoy home life. 

3. Offer flexible work schedules and remote working opportunities

The modern workplace is a hybrid workplace, with multi location teams the norm and flexible working something that most firms are embracing. Flexible hours and remote work can help people maintain a better personal life and so reduce stress levels. However, for some it can be counterproductive as the boundary between work and home life is not clear and easy to maintain making it difficult to switch off. and rest.  it difficult to there is a counter and it can be that there are creeping boundaries and it’s difficult to switch off. In fact after the pandemic many reported that hybrid working was more stressful than full time office work. It is Ccrucial is to ask your employees what would be most helpful to them they want and encourage open communication around the best set up for them to help minimize stress at work. 

4. Encourage social activities

Having down time and social activities is essential for reducing stress at work for numerous reasons. When we engage with others and form relationships our brain releases dopamine, the feel good chemical, making us feel happy and more motivated good. Social activities enable employees to develop good relationships with co workers and enhance overall wellbeing. They are also great for improving office morale, as when we feel good about our workplace we are more likely to enjoy the time. Good ideas for fun activities include a quiz, which can include remote employees, physical activities such as a basketball game, or even a group challenge.

5. Host a mindfulness workshop

Mindfulness reduces stress by reducing activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala which is central to activating your stress response. This means that the background level of stress is reduced, and so people are better able to focus. Wysa offers a number of webinars focused on different elements of wellbeing including mindfulness that can be used as part of corporate wellness program.

6. Offer online group meditations

One such offering from Wysa is online group meditation. Many people find meditation helpful, but struggle to schedule into their day. Having a set time where the whole team can come together to address their wellbeing through online meditation is a great way to include employees who work at home, ensuring that they don’t get forgotten about. These include relax sessions, positive messaging mantras and physical stretches so that no matter why an employee is feeling stressed and their own usual way of coping, there is something there for  them. The sessions are completely anonymous, so there is no worry about confidentiality.

7. Check in with your employees

The most effective corporate wellness programs and initiatives are ones that employees actually want. Wysa’s Employee Barometer is a completely free survey that allows employers  to understand the levels of anxiety and depression in their organization, and as such, take the right action to address it. Make sure that you respond to any feedback about your wellness offering in a timely manner and design the strategy with employee recognition in mind. 

8. Offer stress relief incentives 

Some common benefits that companies offer include getting a yoga instructor in, offering discounting gym memberships, a relaxing office space where people can go to take a moment, and healthy snacks such as a fruit bowl. Just because they’re common doesn’t mean that they don’t provide employees with huge benefits. Just be careful that these added extras don’t become part of a trend of ‘wellness washing’ where companies cover up a toxic workplace with token gestures, as employees will see through this.

9. Host informative webinars on time and stress management

One of the biggest challenges for stress is poor time management. When we become overwhelmed by tasks we find that situations become more stressful. Offer training and support to help people manage stressful situations by putting strategies in place to support their wellbeing. You can run these online so everyone can engage, or if in person send a recording and related article around to other workers who could not attend. Wysa run a number of webinars, designed to help organizations support their employees.

10. Offer coaching services

Wysa’s coaching services enhance the AI offering. A diverse team of trained and qualified emotional well-being professionals are available to engage with as part of Wysa’s employer offering. They use a person-centred approach and offer empathetic non-judgemental listening alongside motivational interviewing along with other evidence-based therapeutic techniques like CBT techniques to help you take care of your mental health and relieve stress. Because Wysa has been shown to enable people to feel a comparable bond as with an in person therapy relationship, and is available wherever and whenever people need them, it can be hugely effective.

11. Provide resilience training to employees

Resilience is essential for managing stress levels. Resilience is essentially an individual’s ability to manage challenges or difficult situations in a way that is non stressful and focuses on growth, with a positive attitude. To support resilience in the workplace offer training to employees and work with leaders to create a psychologically safe workplace so that employees feel able to communicate with other workers without fear of judgement. 

It will be impossible to completely eliminate workplace stress but by incorporating a number of stress relief activities and a corporate focus on how to manage stress you will be able to help your employees fight stress in a more effective way. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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