It seems now more important than ever to be aware of stress not only in our own lives but also in the lives of our employees. With so much going on in the world, it can be easy to experience elevated stress levels and accept it as being normal. The problem with this is that bad stress is unhealthy and affects us in many different ways. It can be the source of many physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral problems which can impact the home, workplace, or other areas in which people interact with each other.
It’s important to recognize that stress effects everyone and not all stress is bad
Stress is any change in the environment that necessitates the body to react and adjust in response to changes it experiences and is manifested by physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral changes. While some stress is good (eustress), i.e., getting a promotion or attending a concert, other types of stress like job loss or divorce is bad (distress).
During this time of year, with a focus on the holiday season, family, friends, shopping and travel, stress levels become elevated. This, in conjunction with COVID and societal issues and their debilitating effects, can negatively impact work performance and relationships.
Over the last year, people’s lives have been turned upside down, as they have been severely restricted in their ability to interact with one another. This seemingly simple aspect of life is so important that a growing body of research shows that the need to socially connect with others is as basic as our need for food, water, and shelter (https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/we-are-hard-wired-to-be-social-248746). This is enough to cause a great amount of stress in people. But it is not just a restriction on socializing that causes stress.
The inability to travel to visit loved ones, restrictions on attending celebratory functions, or deciding to shop at malls during the holiday season are examples of stress inducing situations. According to an article by the APA (https://www.apa.org/topics/work-stress), other sources of stress, which are related to work include:
- Low salaries
- Excessive workload
- Limited opportunities for growth or advancement
- Work that is not engaging or challenging
- Lack of social support
- Limited or no control over job related decisions
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
- A few of the effects of stress caused by these events on individuals include loneliness, depression, and frustration
What You Can Do
Check on your employees. As their leader it is important to ask how they are doing and create an open space where they can truly share their frustrations, not just about work, but personally as well. Provide resources or develop partnerships with companies in the health and wellness space so they are better able to engage in healthy physical activities as well as activities that take care of their mental health. Encourage employees to schedule time in their day for activities such as cycling, yoga, jogging or just going for a brisk walk.
These activities can help to produce hormones like endorphins and dopamine which helps to boost feelings of wellbeing. Developing partnerships with businesses or other organizations who specialize in wellness, may provide opportunities that may have been unavailable to your employees before but now may encourage them to be more active participants in their own physical and mental wellbeing.
Four Things to Know or Ask Your Employees:
- How are your employees feeling about their work?
- How satisfied or dissatisfied are the with their job?
- Are they feeling productive?
- Do they have the resources they need to be successful?
These are all important areas of inquiry that employers ought to be aware of. Having discussions with your employees helps you to establish healthy relationships and as a result, can improve communication and employee engagement. It is through these discussions, that you can discover how your employees are feeling, and by doing so you may realize ways to reduce the amount of stress they are experiencing. You may receive helpful information or great suggestions from them that may help your organization.
Providing resources such as online classes, videos, websites, etc. for your employees can alleviate the addition of “one more thing” to their task list and make it easier for them to access information that will reduce stress and encourage better wellbeing. By providing employees with resources that are easy to access, you strengthen their involvement and trust with the organization. Many employees today want to work for a company who gives back to them and also cares about their physical and emotional health.
Resources that enable them to reflect on their lifestyle and realize if they are taking on too much or need to reorganize priorities are helpful, as well as, resources that provide information on healthy eating and awareness about elevated or problematic levels of smoking or alcohol consumption; both of which can increase anxiety levels. Meditation has been shown to lower stress levels; decrease depression and anxiety; increase focus and attention; improve the ability to multi-task (task switching); improve memory; and improve creativity. So, providing resources for your employees so they can learn about and regularly engage in meditation might be something worth considering. Here is a great resource to check out. https://www.vacationofthemind.com
Though there may be restrictions in place limiting the number of people allowed to occupy a space, that doesn’t mean that you can’t stagger activities/events by time. It won’t be the same as a normal office party, but at least there will be a party and some semblance of a social event. Examples include:
- Half of the workforce attends on one day and the remaining on another.
- A combination of physical and virtual where some people are at the office and others are at home on zoom with cameras and microphones placed in areas that capture scenes to facilitate conversations and interact with each other
Have a BBQ/potluck at the park or a large indoor area. Utilizing these spaces will help to mitigate the restriction placed on the number of people allowed in indoor areas. Also, it might be a nice change of venue for the office party and people would be able to participate in a variety of games and activities they might otherwise not been able to participate in.
The reality is that we are living in a very different time and so as leaders our thinking should reflect that – at least in part. All of us are going through difficult changes in our lives and trying to cope with all that comes with it. These are some small steps to consider to help your employees get through this season and possibly improve their lives in some meaningful ways. New habits can form now to reduce stress which increases resiliency which may help in the future when more difficult situations arise. They will have tools at their disposal and the experience to use them.