More than 80% of business executives say workplace stress is a problem at their organization, according to a new study by Harvard Business Review. Sixty percent say employee stress is negatively affecting employee engagement, and more than 70% say it’s causing burnout.
How can leaders and employees better address stress and burnout in the workplace? Calm brought together a panel of leaders in mental health and business to share insights and best practices for improving workforce mental well-being.
Moderated by SHRM Senior VP of Enterprise Solutions George Rivera, BRB: The Working World Takes a Break featured Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global founder and CEO; Jay Shetty, chief people officer at Calm; Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee, MD, chief health officer at Accenture; and Ken Duckworth, MD, chief medical officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Need to address workplace stress and burnout? Get insights from our panel of business and mental health experts.Watch the webinar
Here are three key takeaways from the webinar:
1. Even in an uncertain economic climate, leaders must make employee mental health a critical priority
Even when budgets are under pressure, employers must make workforce mental health and well-being a top priority, the panelists agreed, with leaders playing a vital role.
“Employees’ mental health and well-being are connected to business outcomes,” said Huffington. “If they care about business metrics, attrition, retention, and performance, they need to care about employee mental health.”
Now’s the time to commit to employee mental health, she stressed. “This is really the time to show the data, show the science, and make it very clear that mental health benefits are not warm and fuzzy, nice-to-have benefits to be cut during hard times.”
To move forward, Huffington suggested, laggards can follow the lead of trailblazers like Dr. Tam Brownlee and Accenture.
According to Dr. Brownlee, it’s not just a matter of retaining mental health benefits in tough economic times. In the aftermath of the pandemic, employers must take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to make employee mental health a critical priority once and for all.
Dr. Duckworth of NAMI echoed the need for leaders to embrace the opportunity to normalize mental health in workplace culture. “This is the opportunity that comes with the grief, the uncertainty, and all the heartache of COVID. . . . Leadership can set the tone for the idea that if you live with a mental health condition or an addiction condition, you’re welcome in the workplace and accommodations can be part of the workplace portfolio.”
I think the organizations that will succeed are the ones who attend to and integrate mental health into their culture and portfolio,” he added. “I think that leadership and HR directors can make decisions around benefits, EAPs, and employee resource groups (ERGs) to support and acknowledge that mental health is a real concern for people.”
“I’m really encouraged now because there is so much more data that’s available that shows that if you make this investment, as Arianna said, there is greater return, there’s greater productivity,” Dr. Tam added. “But I think what’s most important is what we see at Accenture: we have just greater thriving people.”
2. A great mental health strategy goes beyond the EAP
A recent SHRM survey found that nearly 78% of organizations either currently offer or will offer mental health resources in the next year, according to Rivera. Noting that EAPs alone are not sufficient, he asked Dr. Brownlee to outline Accenture’s mental health strategy and how the company is redefining the employer approach.
“At Accenture, our orientation is really to make a really big, audacious goal and aspiration for health and well-being: that all of our people, all 720,000 people globally and their families, are thriving physically, mentally, and financially,” Dr. Brownlee said. “We believe that mental health is a building block of that framework that considers all the dimensions of health and well-being so everyone feels cared for, like they belong in our organization, like there’s trust and connection, and like they’re in control.”
Dr. Brownlee outlined critical priorities behind Accenture’s approach to mental health:
- Making mental health a fundamental pillar of the company’s priorities as an organization and putting science behind it to assess where the organization is and where its people are
- Ensuring that mental health resources are equitable in their reach globally and culturally and regionally relevant to its people where they are
- Building a team of 12,000 mental health allies across the organization who are trained to understand when colleagues may be experiencing mental health challenges and provide support
- Measuring and demonstrating the value of the mental health resources the company offers
Dr. Brownlee spoke to the value of offering Thrive Global and Calm to Accenture employees, enabling them to find relief and support in stressful moments:
“Calm is by far one of the most popular as well as meaningful applications and programs we have for our people today. There’s not a day that we don’t hear about . . . how people, their children, their partners, have really benefited from what Calm has been able to provide: a tool to be able to be centered, to take stock in oneself, to be able to breathe, to hear a story, which really speaks to what we’re all craving in this moment—an opportunity to get back to ourselves, to calm, literally, things down, and be able to reset.”
Shetty implored organizations to follow the lead of organizations like Accenture that are taking a broad approach to workforce mental health:
3. Everyone needs to take breaks, and even 60 seconds is enough to reset
When to-do lists are long or a deadline looms, it’s common to think, “I don’t have time to take breaks.” But pushing through, Shetty explained, often leaves us stressed, exhausted, and burned out.
The panelists agreed that our minds need to rest and recover just as our bodies do. “Recovery has to be part of your day,” said Huffington, “because how many of us have gone on an amazing two-week vacation, come back, and within 48 hours felt burned out again?”
She recommends incorporating 60-second micro breaks into the workday. “It takes 60 to 90 seconds . . . to interrupt the stress cycle. While stress is unavoidable . . . cumulative stress is avoidable. That’s what we need to interrupt. Because if you end up at the end of the day marinated in cortisol, it’s going to be very hard for you to wind down, to be able to sleep. That’s when binge eating, binge drinking, and a lot of unhealthy behaviors happen in order to be able to remove that tension that you are experiencing in your body.”
In those 60 seconds, focus on something that brings you joy, Huffington said:
Shetty recommends carving out five-minute gaps between meetings to slow down, be present in the moment, and realign the body and the mind. A great way to use those five minutes, he said, is what he calls the three Ws: walking, water, and windows.
According to Shetty, even a stroll has shown signs of reducing stress, and research shows that five cups of water per day lower the risk of anxiety. The third thing to do is find a window, he said. “Even if you can’t open it up, looking into the distance has shown so many mental health benefits, especially with eye strains. So much of our life today is looking at iPads, looking at phones that are so close to us that actually looking out into the distance, looking into the sky, trying to spot something far away actually reduces that strain and the physical pain that we feel. Walking, water, and windows: those three Ws can be great things to do in a five-minute break.”
What organizations and employees can do today to combat workplace stress
To tackle the workplace stress epidemic, employers can start by expanding their mental health offerings beyond the EAP and adopting best practices from trailblazers like Accenture. Leaders across the company must commit to modeling mental health as a critical priority, and employees need to incorporate short breaks into their workdays. These are just a few of the insights shared in BRB: The Working World Takes a Break. For more insights, watch the full webinar.
For more information on supporting employee mental well-being, connect with our Calm specialist today.