Recognizing and Reducing Stress in the Workplace

At the individual level, stress not only makes people feel fragile and overwhelmed, but also alone. This is especially true at work, where employees feel pressured to be productive and professional regardless of what’s happening in their personal lives. Now, in addition to individual stressors, workers around the world have a major source of stress in common: the collective trauma of a pandemic. Added to this universal trauma are ongoing inequities, political division, climate change-related disasters, economic insecurity, global ramifications of the war in Ukraine, and more.

April is Stress Awareness Month, and now more than ever, it’s essential to be aware of how trauma and major events outside of work as well as pressures within it can cause stress in the workplace. Ultimately, employees can’t be productive, engaged, or innovative if they’re burned out or have poor mental health. Here are some ways employers can help their workers cope with and recover from collective trauma and workplace stress.

How Can Employers Reduce Stress in the Workplace?

The good news is that there are plenty of ways employers can offer healthy strategies for managing stress in the workplace. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Prioritize employees’ emotional well-being and sense of safety and comfort. Check in with your employees regularly to see how they’re doing (without being intrusive). An easy way to do this is to kick-off meetings by asking people to share a personal update before moving on to business. You can also get a pulse on their outlook in one-to-one and small-group meetings. Business leaders can show their own vulnerability to encourage authentic conversations about stress and mental health among employees.
  • Encourage employees to make time for self-care. Provide workers with healthcare and wellness benefits to every extent possible and encourage them to take advantage of these resources. You can also point them in the direction of free apps and services related to self-care. Ensure that employees are as physically comfortable in their workspace as possible and, if possible, let them work from home at least some of the time. You can find more self-care ideas for employees here.
  •  Offer opportunities and strategies for work/life balance. When possible, allow for flexible schedules that accommodate employees’ preferences (morning people vs. night owls, extroverts vs. introverts) and personal lives. Create ways for workers to take time off (such as “4/10” work weeks) for whatever will help them feel well and rejuvenated — even if it’s a trip to the spa or a day of doing nothing. Encourage people to take breaks and vacations and set boundaries for completely “unplugging” from work.
  • Provide or direct employees to mental health resources. It’s time to normalize conversations around mental health, and one way to do this is to emphasize its importance in company messaging. Leaders and managers should take time to educate themselves about the causes and effects of stress. If your company offers health benefits that cover mental health services, remind your employees of this fact. You can also highlight free related resources and apps for everyone to try.
  • Foster a kind and inclusive work culture. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for stress, whether it stems from the workplace or not, consciously fostering a kind and inclusive workplace culture can go a long way toward preventing and reducing tension of all kinds. Consider strategies for implementing such a culture. It’s not just good for employees: it’s also helpful for team building, strengthening company loyalty, reducing turnover, and improving operations.
  • Proactively prevent and address toxic aspects of work culture. Between the tight labor market and the number of employer review sites now available, a toxic work culture will harm your reputation. It’s crucial to proactively assess and address sources of unhealthy behaviors in order to keep your employees happy, maintain your company’s reputation as a great place to work, and boost your recruiting efforts.

Reduce Stress in the Workplace with the National Fund for Workforce Solutions

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions invests in a dynamic national network of communities tackling critical workforce issues. To achieve our vision of an equitable future where workers, employers, and communities thrive and prosper, we recognize that workers are human beings with full and complex lives and promote a wide range of skills development and support to make sure workers can truly thrive.

Read more about how the universal human stress test of the pandemic presents an opportunity to bring the issues of stress, burnout, and mental health to conversations about workplaces and the broader workforce system. Subscribe to the National Fund email list to stay up to date with the latest in workforce development across the country.