Stress is a bodily reaction that arises when we feel threatened or under pressure. In that sense, stress warns us about our surroundings and motivates us to take action. That’s why stress is essential to our survival and has a crucial function in our lives. It can help us strive in challenging situations, but only if we experience it to the extent that it’s manageable for us.
Stress can help us get motivated, challenge ourselves, and grow. However, if our resources are insufficient to navigate the stress we feel, the threat we face may appear far beyond what we can handle.
Stress is one of employees’ most frequently experienced emotions, and it’s a burden on their shoulders. According to the 2022 Mind the Workplace report, 4 out of 5 employees report that their relationship with their friends, family, and coworkers is affected by workplace stress.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) proposes a model of job stress. In the model, individual and situational factors moderate the relationship between stressful job conditions and the risk of injury and illness. Organizations are naturally stressful. However, the employee’s resources to face such occupational stress, combined with the situational resources provided by the organization, decide whether stress will lead to positive or negative business outcomes.
Suppose employees don’t have enough resources to help them meet their jobs’ requirements and overcome challenges such as tight deadlines, workload, and conflicts with colleagues. In that case, employees start to be negatively affected by stress. That’s why organizations that support their employees through various plans, tools, and benefits contribute their employees’ resources. This contribution helps employees cultivate resilience and strive in such a demanding environment.
What happens when employees don’t have enough resources to navigate their stress:
Absenteeism refers to the habitual non-presence of employees during work hours. On the other hand, attending work while feeling ill with poor mental health and working at reduced productivity is defined as presenteeism. Whereas it is easier to spot absenteeism, presenteeism is an invisible cost in business. The American Institute of Stress estimates a $300 billion yearly loss due to occupational stress-related absenteeism, injuries, and reduced productivity. The bottom line is organizations need to spend to save.
Unmanageable stress interferes with cognitive abilities such as focusing, planning, problem-solving, and critical thinking. It becomes more challenging to stay on task, make important decisions, and find ways out of complex situations. Stress negatively affects physical health too. High levels of stress can lead to headaches, tiredness, and sleeplessness. Thus, emotionally and physically drained employees become more reluctant to take the initiative, challenge themselves, and fulfill their potential.
Organizations often consider their employees with only their working selves. However, human beings can only flourish in a supportive environment where they feel valued and respected. A demanding culture without much to give drains its employees’ commitment and reduces organizational coherence.
Employees tend to look for other opportunities to lead their career path, feeling unvalued and un-supported. A stressful work culture without any guidance and support from management leaves employees unsatisfied with their current role, and they disengage from their organization. As more people leave their employer voluntarily and spend less time, on average, at each employer, mental health-related turnover costs increase.
To sustain the business requires maintaining the well-being of the employees. Employees don’t experience stress in isolation. Employers and managers have an impact on these experiences, either positive or negative.
The World Health Organization estimates a 4x return for every dollar invested in employee well-being. Investing in the well-being of employees is always a win-win game.
Stress management training for employees is like preventative maintenance. These pieces of training aim to identify the signs of work stress and provide the employees with various tools to navigate their challenges. It’s about being proactive. It’s about taking precautions and caring for your employee’s well-being before the stressful job conditions impact their performance and personal life.
Occupational stress is not only the concern of individuals but also the business. Creating a well-being culture is essential for creating a permanent change. It means involvement of the management and ongoing efforts to decrease the stressful conditions of work while also promoting a well-being culture within the organization. Regularly meeting with employees, listening to their needs, concerns, and requests, and developing action plans to improve their situation will show you care about them and support your business.
Organizations cannot have a stress-free environment but can offer opportunities for their employees to learn ways to navigate their stress. Various tools are effective in managing intense emotions. One of these tools is mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” According to a meta-analysis conducted in 2020, mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace effectively decrease employee stress and burnout while improving overall well-being and job satisfaction.
One way of offering mental health benefits for employees is coaching services. In its simplest form, a coach is a companion that assists a person in raising their self-awareness and making good choices in life. Beyond this, a personal coach can guide individuals through various issues. Employees can receive support from their coach on time management, setting boundaries, navigating workplace conflict, creating achievable goals, and learning ways to relax and their personal struggles. Through this support, employees can feel valued, stay motivated and committed, and increase their resilience, which will help them reveal their potential in the workplace.