How to help employees manage their wellbeing and work related stress

By Dedeepya Ajith John Jan 17, 2018
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Often we have certain perceptions that there are specific age brackets that feel stress more than others, or that women go through more stress than men in organizations. But a recent study indicates that stress occurs irrespective of age or gender.

The research study between Chestnut Global Partners India and SHRM India in 2016, covering a total of 2,157 respondents from 12 organizations, showed that there are high levels of organizational productivity loss which are directly linked to workplace stress and a lack of employee wellness.

The study shows that total organizational productivity loss per year approximately adds up to INR 49.67 Crores, 105.48 Crores and 10.5 Crores across IT/ITES, Finance / Banking and Travel & Hospitality sectors respectively, making the problem a serious contender for organizational investments on holistic health and wellness of employees, particularly with a focus on minimizing stress levels. Given these results, it's clear that stress can become a big reason for business decline and a motivation for companies to starte looking at solutions.

There are some key professional causes of stress that the study shares, such as a lack of work-life balance, disrespect at work, a lack of support from managers and more. Some personal stress factors like the lack of sufficient income and an inability to balance personal and professional responsibilities also have a direct impact on the employee's work.

Here are some ways in which organizations can help employees manage their well-being and stress that arises due to work. These are unique ways that go beyond providing a health insurance benefit coverage, which clearly demonstrate that the organization cares for its people and does not view wellness as a paper exercise.  

1. Emphasis on wholesome focus - Gone are the days when organizations provided only gym memberships as perks to the employees. The emphasis has to now be on more holistic well-being which includes physical and emotional elements. If the organizations have a cafeteria, stocking healthy snacks and meal options is important. Inviting well-known food brands or individuals who focus on healthy eating and living to share what they make, in the form of stalls, is also a good idea. In addition, arranging for group counseling sessions and team activities that can break the stress by allowing for a fun-filled time can really make a difference. Sessions on mindfulness are now becoming part of executive coaching. So these kind of sessions that enable a person to consciously work towards handling stress in better ways or channeling it positively will be very beneficial for them. It is seen that 45% of the organizations in the CGP – SHRM study are using Gamification to drive health and wellness.

2. Identification of stress factors – The organization needs to conduct some kind of diagnostic research and  link the findings to engagement survey results, to identify the triggers at work that impact well being and create stress for any individual. These could be bad managers, a hostile culture, inadequate compensation, perception of unfair treatment, team related friction, lack of career growth or anything else. The identification is what leads to prioritization the segments that need to be addressed first. Knowing the groups of employees that are at high risk based on this data and its analysis will help the organization design a two-level strategy – one which is organization wide, and the other which is specific. By analyzing the impact of work related stressors on employees and productivity, organizations can build a strong business case for providing better initiatives and invest in them.  

3. Relaxation techniques and active lifestyle - Many technology organizations have recreation facilities, but how many of those are outdoors or even relaxation based? Encouraging employees to use meditation or calming techniques anytime during the day at work by creating space for it is a good idea. Speaking to employees about leading an active lifestyle, participating in marathons or community fitness events, or even having signboards encouraging them to use the stairs are simple ways to communicate. Asking employees to become buddies who can meditate or walk together, following theme-based events like heart-healthy day and so on, are other ways to encourage better well-being.  

4. Communication strategy to facilitate sharing – A high degree of work-related stress arises from the fact that employees find it difficult to communicate or speak about it. They do not find the right outlets for sharing what they are going through. The communication strategy should be worked on to make sure that it drives a culture that enables sharing, so start by creating informal and formal channels of raising a concern or a challenge, having open houses which allow for free exchange of ideas, and showing trust in employee feedback are all steps that not only HR but leadership needs to drive. 

5. Time management and prioritization training – A lot of work-related stress arises from incorrect use of time or an inability to manage it well and prioritize the activities. Schedule workshops that can give practical tips on how people can work on tasks in a manner that does not spill into their personal time or extend beyond work hours. Managers can also be given the training on what approach to use when delegating so that they do not spend time and effort in excess of what is required. With the use of these tips there are chances of work-related stress reducing to a large extent, without any compromise on the deliverables that are needed. There are many concepts such as the Impact-Effort matrix or the Eisenshower Decision Matrix which can work very well in a real-life work scenario to prioritize tasks. Employees need to be guided on how to use these regularly, to free up more and more time that might not be getting used well.  

6. Focus on work-life balance- Organizations should demonstrate as well as reward those individuals who are able to balance their lives in a good way. The increased emphasis on work-life balance by the millennial generation shows that everyone wants to work but in a manner that does not compromise their life outside of work, or their quality of living. Instead of applauding managers who encourage late-sitting, organizations should appreciate those who are able to get the work done within office hours. In addition, encouraging the thought process that performance should supersede presence within its leaders is a big step. That in turn can help organizations implement flexible work arrangements, which will help employees manage their work goals and personal commitments better.

7. Emphasis on special groups – All organizations are a diverse mix of individuals. So ensuring that some of the special segments get support is also important. For example, nutrition as well as post-partum counseling sessions for new mothers, age-appropriate exercising insights for those who are older, managing physiological stress for those working in night shifts and so on. This can go a long way in engaging and retaining high-potential employees who come from these sets. Some support from a health perspective to employees who are involved in child care or geriatric care is also a step in the right direction. Similarly, employees who travel frequently for work can get guidance on how to ensure that they eat healthy and rest well with those kind of travel schedules.  

The CGP - SHRM study also shares some challenges, such as explaining the ROI of health-related initiatives, or difficulty in implementing them across different markets. As much as it is important to provide a holistic initiative to the employees, it is equally important to assess the ROI of these initiatives.

Even so, the role of the organization is to create and sustain an employee friendly culture, which is flexible as well as open to feedback. This needs to be reinforced further through the above measures, not only in the form of policies, but with active implementation by HR as well as leadership teams. Stress has many implications such as depression, anxiety and even heart issues. All of these impact the employee's ability to live a healthy life as well as contribute to the organization. To prevent such a situation from arising, these steps need to be taken today.

Some organizations in India, such as Wipro, Accenture and L&T provide great corporate wellness support to their employees, through their vendor partnerships and well-designed policies and practices. The results from these are now evident to employers, who truly believe that such programs have helped employees from falling into depression and also enabled them to multi-task better. Work stress in some ways is inevitable given the rapidity of change. The focus of organizations should be on how to keep it minimal and also to fortify its employees on managing it better.


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