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3 Steps for Developing a Stress-Reduction Program

Jenny Sundquist, Strategic Risk Advisor

According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 75% of adults experienced moderate to high levels of stress in the past month, and nearly half reported their stress increased in the past year. A major cause of all that anxiety stems in the workplace, with 61% of Americans listing work as the leading cause.

Stress at work can lead to sleepless nights, extreme fatigue and emotional outbursts. Highly stressed employees are also less likely to make healthy lifestyle choices. These problems can lead to productivity losses, declining engagement, decreased employee retention and many other negative outcomes.

Financial Implications of Stress

What should be of great concern to organizations is the staggering financial impact of workplace stress, accounting for a total of $46 billion in annual excess health-care costs. With healthcare benefits taking up an increasingly sizable portion of company budgets, it’s important to address every possible cause that may contribute to those rising costs.

What can you do to reduce stress in the workplace to improve employee satisfaction and mitigate the associated risks? Designing a stress management program can benefit employees and employers alike. Here, we’ll outline some of our own recommendations as well as those from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for developing a system to help manage stress in the workplace.

Step 1

Identify The Problem

Uncovering the scope and causes of stress will vary based on the size of the organization and available resources. For some, the cause may be increased workloads or greater demands to meet deadlines, while others may struggle with coworker conflicts or a toxic atmosphere. Technology, while creating efficiencies on the one hand, may be difficult for some to adopt or may lead to people working extended hours remotely and feeling like they can never unplug. One survey indicated that 81% of people checked email on the weekends and 59% said they did so while on vacation. 

Organize group discussions with managers, safety committee members, labor representatives and employees to help identify the root causes of stress. Capture data including employee perceptions of job conditions and levels of stress, mental and physical health conditions and job satisfaction. Examine objective metrics like absenteeism, illness, turnover rates, and performance problems as well, and factor the data into your evaluation. 

Step 2

Design and Implement Change

Once sources of stress have been identified and the scope of the problem is understood, it’s time to strategize to find a solution. This is often easier said than done, as change will often require a culture shift among employees and, more importantly, among leadership. When leaders set the example and demonstrate a healthy work/life balance (and encourage others to do so), employees are more likely to feel like they have “permission” to reduce the triggers of stress. If leadership continually burns the midnight oil, others will feel pressured to do likewise.

You may find that some stressors (like excessive workload) exist in some departments but not others, so you may need to dig deeper to find solutions in those areas. Other factors may require institutional changes such as a stress reduction campaign, training or forming a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and implement changes. 

A simple yet effective way to help reduce stress is to encourage physical activity. Research has shown that exercise in almost any form can help relieve stress and boost feel-good endorphins. Promote walking during lunch breaks, offer fitness classes, sponsor participation in a local walk/run and other initiatives that get workers moving.

Step 3

Evaluate the Program

Evaluation is an essential step in determining whether your efforts to reduce stress have been successful and if the necessary actions were taken to address the root causes. Conduct short- and long-term evaluations, as programs will often show initial progress leading toward lower stress levels, but they may not persist over time.  

The evaluations are designed to measure employees’ perceptions of their job conditions, stress-levels, mental and physical health and job satisfaction. When possible, include objective metrics such as absenteeism and healthcare costs as part of your evaluation process. Of course, analysis is only valuable when acted upon. Take the information you gather and seek to continually improve your work environment to enhance employee job satisfaction.

There will always be stressful moments or seasons at work, but when those moments turn into a continual state of anxiety for your employees, it’s time to take action. McClone has partnered with many organizations to assess their workplace culture and introduce initiatives to reduce overall stress and increase employee satisfaction. We've identified a number of HR best practices and compiled them in a helpful checklist that you can keep on hand to reference for your organization. Reach out to us with any additional question you have or to learn more about what additional resources we have available to help you address the workplace challenges you're faced with.

HR Best Practice Checklist