What is a Stress Management Program?
Today, more employers than ever are offering stress management programs in the workplace to help their employees combat high stress levels and promote a culture of wellbeing. While stress at work isn’t new, our collective understanding of the way it can impact employee health over time has come a long way. Employees are also more open to receiving stress management help from their employer, and in some cases have come to expect it. According to the National Institute of Stress, “80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42% say their coworkers also need help” with stress management.
Stress management programs are designed to promote overall wellbeing by providing employers and employees with tools to prevent and reduce workplace stress. They can be delivered in a variety of ways, but are usually made up of educational resources, company policies, digital programs delivered through an app or wellbeing platform, management training or physical changes to the workplace. For example, a designated social area in the workplace for employees to gather and take a break and incentives for completing a mindfulness session could both be a part of a stress management program.
Why Do We Need Stress Management Programs in the Workplace?
Not all stress is created equal. In fact, a little stress at work can be a good thing! It can lend a sense of urgency or motivate people to do their best work. It’s also important to remember that stress isn’t actually categorized as a medical disorder. Rather, stress is simply a response to a situation, and your ability to handle stress can change from day to day. However, if that stress response is prolonged or unmanaged over a long period of time then it may lead to poor engagement, absenteeism, presenteeism, physical illness, burnout, reduced ability to focus or other mental health disorders like anxiety or depression.
These adverse effects of stress are now a global health problem, although some populations are slightly more at-risk than others. Gallup found that 55% of workers in the U.S. feel stress during the day, a full 20 percentage points higher than the global average (35%). Burnout, an all too common issue for workers in healthcare or finance professions, has been making headlines and is now classified as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization.
And it’s not just employees who are feeling the effects of stress. A stressed-out workforce impacts productivity, absenteeism, retention, workplace culture — which all impact the bottom line. In fact, a study found that stress is costing American companies $300 billion every year in lost productivity. Researchers broke down the costs further: 40% of job turnover comes from stress, highly stressed workers are responsible for half of healthcare expenditures, absenteeism can cost a single enterprise $360 million a year, and replacing an employee can cost 120%-200% of that person’s salary.
How Can Businesses Implement Stress Management at Work?
With stress affecting so many people within the workplace, and work being one of the leading stressors in people’s lives, it’s in an employer’s best interest to offer stress management programs. To make them successful, they should include tools and resources for:
- Identifying symptoms of stress in yourself and others
- Improving emotional agility and resilience
- Removing social or environmental stressors from the physical work environment
- Managing job-specific stressors and personal stressors like money, family, health issues and so on
- Addressing the organization’s overall impact on stress levels and morale
Most importantly, stress management programs should be accessible to everyone and inclusive of people’s varying needs and preferences. Whether it’s a heavy workload, management concerns, fears about job security or trouble at home, stress can be incredibly personal. Providing people with self-guided learning opportunities and stress reduction techniques that fit their schedule and physical capabilities is crucial to encouraging participation.
Not surprisingly, management can also impact the success of stress management programs in the workplace. Researchers at VitalSmarts, a leadership training company, found that one in three managers could not handle high-stakes situations. Instead, they tend to get angry or withdraw, leaving employees frustrated, disengaged or without support in tough situations. Managers that are fully versed in stress management, or less stressed themselves, are better able to lead by example and promote a culture of wellbeing.
Managers can also help with stress management by:
- Knowing the symptoms of stress and burnout
- Fostering an open environment that supports mental wellbeing and is free from stigma
- Respecting employees’ personal time
- Monitoring engagement, absenteeism, staff turnover and safety incidents
- Helping employees manage their workloads and improve work-life balance
Stress Management Programs Produce Resilient Companies
According to Dr. Susan David, organizations need to develop and cultivate emotional agility skills to create healthier, sustainable and more successful workplaces. Not only that, resilient employees create resilient companies that can withstand the constant changes and pressures that face modern workplaces. Stress management programs will not only help you create a resilient workforce, but they can help to cultivate a culture of wellbeing and show your employees that you care.