It’s normal for employees to occasionally feel stressed at work. But experiencing persistent job-related stress over a long period of time can negatively affect mental health, job satisfaction, and work performance.
As part of our Healthy Minds at Work: Preventive Guide for Reducing Health Risks and Costs for Employers, we are sharing a Healthy Minds Workplace Model with five pillars of prevention. In this blog, we discuss our first pillar of prevention–reducing stress. Here’s why addressing stress is key to minimizing more serious mental health conditions and key strategies to combat stress in your workplace.
Workplace stress is linked to mental health conditions
A birth cohort study estimated that at age 32, 45% of cases of depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers were attributable to job stress. In addition to depression, exposure to various job stressors has been associated with burnout, anxiety disorders, alcohol dependence, suicide, and other mental health conditions. As a result, preventing or reducing exposure to job stressors and improving the psychosocial quality of work could prevent a substantial proportion of common mental health problems.
To some degree, stress at work is unavoidable, but it is manageable. Here’s the impact of stress on employees and how HR leaders can help mitigate it.
How does stress affect employees?
Stress in the workplace has far-reaching effects on employees, here’s the impact:
- Employee physical health: When employees are stressed on a regular basis, their physical health suffers. Common side effects of stress include headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues, chest pain, fatigue, and sleep problems. Chronic stress can increase an employee’s risk for heart issues and high blood pressure.
- Employee mental health and well-being: Stress also puts employees’ mental health in jeopardy. Not only does stress alter an employee’s mood by contributing to restlessness, nervousness, and irritability, it can also lead to bigger health issues. Sustained stress can result in anxiety, depression, and burnout if left untreated.
- Employee job performance: If employees are under constant stress, their work quality can decline. Stress can make employees less interested in their work and less motivated on the job. As a result, they may struggle to concentrate, maintain productivity, and make difficult decisions at work.
4 ways employers can reduce employee stress
Individual stress management techniques are helpful, but they’re not enough to solve work-related stress problems. To permanently lower employee stress levels and create a healthier workplace culture, it’s critical for employers, company leaders, and HR professionals to make proactive changes that resolve the root cause of stress at work.
Here are four strategies to try to mitigate employee stress in the workplace:
1. Offer more flexibility
A flexible work arrangement is one of the top mitigators of employee stress, burnout, and depression. When employees have some flexibility over their work hours or location, they have more time and energy to recharge, spend time with loved ones, and handle personal and family needs. Flexibility is especially crucial for employees who are transitioning back to in-person work. A majority of employees who’ve recently returned onsite said flexible schedules and hybrid work arrangements would help reduce stress.
Flexibility comes in all shapes and sizes. You could consider offering any of these benefits:
- Flexible or custom work hours
- Hybrid work schedule
- Extra paid time off
- Choice and control of shifts
Want more ideas? Check out our guide to redefining workplace flexibility.
2. Reduce work hours or workloads
Heavy workloads and long work hours both play a big role in how much stress employees experience. When employees have more manageable workloads or hours, not only do they gain more time for themselves but they also have more breathing room on the job. Here are a handful of different workload management solutions:
- Redistributing assignments according to employee strengths and preferences, not roles
- Outsourcing tasks to give employees a break
- Reducing traditional shift times
- Offering flexible workweeks
- Holding weekly or monthly check-ins with employees to see how they’re doing and where they need help
3. Prioritize inclusion and psychological safety at your workplace
An inclusive workplace is one where employees of all backgrounds and abilities feel welcome and valued. A psychologically safe work environment is one where employees feel comfortable sharing concerns, offering ideas, and being themselves without fear of harassment or punishment. Prioritizing employees’ comfort and psychological safety doesn’t just mean offering more compassion and support; it means actively taking steps to eliminate bullying, toxicity, discrimination, microaggressions, and punitive policies from the workplace.
Building a psychologically safe workplace may require a total overhaul of company policies or cultural values, but here are some ways to get started:
- Enroll company leaders and managers in a course on empathetic leadership and implicit bias recognition.
- Consult a DEIB expert to review your workplace policies and pay structure.
- Encourage employees to share their ideas in team meetings and invite them to share feedback or concerns then recognize them for their contributions and ideas.
- Eliminate or update policies that punish employees for making mistakes. Give employees the space and freedom to fail, learn, and grow.
- Enroll employees in a course on how to recognize and combat racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia in the workplace.
- Encourage managers and leaders to model open, transparent communication.
- Create opportunities for teams to learn or discuss difficult topics together. A recent Calm Business survey found that remote employees who had the opportunity to use Calm with others at work reported greater psychological safety.
- Offer culturally relevant mental health support resources on Calm Business.
4. Offer more mental health support
One of the most effective ways to reduce employee stress is to bolster your company’s mental health support. 97% of employees who responded to Calm’s mental health survey said that their employers should be working to improve their mental health.
When employees understand the importance of their own mental well-being—and have the tools to improve it—they’re more likely to set healthy boundaries and regularly practice stress management techniques. Here are some ways you can better support your employees:
- Normalize talking about mental health: Update your employee handbook to include mental health resources and make space for employees to have mental health conversations at work. One way to do that is to give employees access to Calm’s educational material. In a Calm Business survey, we found that employees who had opportunities to use Calm with others at work were 53% more likely to report that they had an easier time starting a dialogue about mental health at work.
- Teach employees stress management tips: Give employees a guide that teaches them signs of stress, the effects of stress, strategies for keeping stress low, and tips for knowing when to seek help.
- Integrate mental health benefits to reduce stress: Consider giving employees more benefits designed to boost mental well-being. Think paid mental health days, monthly wellness stipends, or access to a mental health platform such as Calm Business. For example, check out our Panic SOS series on the Calm app to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Keep employees’ individual needs and accommodations in mind: Every employee is different. Some employees might be experiencing burnout and need to take a short leave to recover, while others might need more flexibility as working parents. Instead of offering only one-size-fits-all solutions, take the time to check in with individual employees on a regular basis to find out what they need.
To find out how you can implement the other four pillars of prevention, check out our Healthy Minds at Work: Preventive Guide for Reducing Health Risks and Costs for Employers or book a demo to learn more about Calm’s benefits for employees.