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Stress at work is a major issue for many Americans. According to a study from the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, 40 percent of workers surveyed reported that their jobs were very or extremely stressful, while 25 percent viewed their jobs as the number-one stressor in their lives.
Most business leaders recognize that stress can have a range of negative impacts on their individual employees. But some fail to realize that if left unchecked, stress can have a trickle-down effect that can taint the entire workplace.
On the personal front, job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than either financial or family problems. A stressful, conflict-rich work environment is also one of the biggest barriers to staff retention and long-term growth. Not only does it lead to lack of job satisfaction, it’s proven to hinder productivity, create interpersonal discord and cultivate poor job performance:
One study on workplace conflict found that U.S. employees surveyed spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.
Today, more corporate leaders are taking note, and putting procedures and benefits in place to help their employees -- and their business -- better manage the negative impacts stress can impose. Have you considered such a move to foster better stress management in your workplace? Think about deploying one or all of these three strategies:
1. Provide healthy snacks and opportunities to move.
Long-term stress can increase appetite and sow the urge to binge on high-sugar or high-fat comfort and convenience foods. This kind of emotional eating is often the body’s way of coping with tension. Fortunately, Mother Nature produces excellent stress fighters! Foods naturally rich in vitamins and minerals can help fight increased levels of cortisol -- a stress hormone. So, stock your staff kitchen with stress-fighting, desk-friendly foods like cashews, oatmeal, oranges and vitamin C-packed berries. Not only will these foods keep your staffers from getting “hangry,” but your actions will show employees how much you value them -- and their health.
In addition, consider investing in your employees’ health through a workplace wellness program. It’s not just a nice idea – it’s a tactic proven to deliver a measurable return on investment for businesses. An example is Johnson & Johnson's estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on healthcare costs over the past decade. From 2002 to 2008, the company said, its return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.
Offer incentivized fitness competitions to get your staff moving -- and to incite some healthy competition, too. You don’t have to focus on weight loss: Challenge staffers to track their steps daily for a set period of time; then celebrate the employee who walks the most. Or, if a competition isn’t your speed, offer a discounted or free gym membership to your staff on a “use-it-or-lose it” basis. Many companies offering this perk require employees to check in to their gym twice a week or more to retain access to the facilities. This not only encourages employees to burn off tensions through exercise -- it allows employers to focus their wellness spend on the employees who are most engaged.
2. Outsource stress management services.
As a business owner, you probably outsource a number of critical functions to keep your company running smoothly. Stress management should be no different. There are a number of different professional support services that can make a positive impact on workplace stress.
Consider hiring a massage therapist once a month, for example, to provide your staff with complimentary on-site head, neck and hand massages. According to a report by Integra Survey, 62 percent of employees studied said they routinely end the day with work-related neck pain -- 44 percent reported stressed-out eyes, 38 percent complained of hurting hands and 34 percent reported difficulty in sleeping because they were too stressed-out. Massage not only focuses on the physical aspects of stress, but touch is a great natural stress reliever.
Another option is to bring in a certified instructor to offer lunchtime yoga or tai chi classes. A mid-day session will help elevate “feel-good” endorphins, and center your staff for a productive afternoon and a less-stressed evening. Plus, the camaraderie of working out together is great for team building and office morale.
3. Provide tools to help your employees improve their body and mind.
For employers who are serious about reducing stress, there are high-tech tools to help. For example, the Inner Balance trainer provides a three-step technique, and provides real-time feedback to help employees synchronize their breath and heart rhythms, and retrain their mind-body response to stress.
The tool focuses on helping employees track, and optimize, their heart rate variance (HRV) -- the variation of the time between individual heartbeats. An optimal amount of HRV reflects resilience, fitness, vitality and the ability to manage stress and maintain composure. On the other hand, too little variability indicates chronic stress, nervous system depletion, fatigue and a higher risk of future health problems.
For a brick-and-mortar stress reduction solution, consider dedicating space in your office for a rest and relaxation room. Reallocating a small conference room, office or storage area, and outfitting it with an aromatherapy diffuser, a white-noise machine or fountain, low lighting, soft seating and blankets creates a “time-out” space for employees to grab a power nap, or simply decompress for a few minutes. (New moms can also use this space as a quiet and private place to pump.)
For more on workplace management issues, visit this blog for Tom Wolters.