In a recent conversation with a Human Resources Executive,
he asked if my company offers stress management programs as part of a worksite wellness program. I responded yes, and quickly asked his permission to ask a couple of questions. I explained that we often find that stress is a symptom of some underlying issue or issues. Our preference is to not just treat the symptoms but to uncover the true underlying issue. He pondered this for a moment and continued to tell me his story.
It seems that for the past several years, the annual employee engagement survey was uncovering that employees are feeling really stressed at work and that work is the source of the stress. He wanted to really understand what was the cause of this and find a way to help employees manage better in the workplace.
Stress is hard to avoid and present for most of us in one form or another. Research actually shows that we need some level of stress, but not too much, to be healthy. But when stress gets to be too much, it can impact our health, our relationships and our ability to be effective in all areas of our life.
Organizations, such as the one in which this HR Executive works, have the opportunity to create awareness for this, to fully understand the situation and to take action to help reduce the stress in the workplace.
Here are a few suggestions on approaching this situation:
Understand the problem
The first step is to fully understand the problem. Approaches to this include surveying employees or conducting focus groups, to get employees to really talk about the issues. Look for all the signs – turnover, absenteeism, employees not using vacation time, etc. Using all of these techniques can provide both the qualitative and quantitative information that will help understand the issue.
Assess the workplace culture
Is the culture in your organization driving the stress? What assumptions exist in your workplace that may be driving stress? Are employees expected to check email at night, on weekends or while on vacation? Get feedback from employees on the norms and assumptions that drive the culture. Are these norms healthy and do they serve the best interests of both the organization and the employees. [Other blogs on workplace culture]
What policies are in place
Do workplace policies support employees’ work life balance and integration? One-size-fits all policies may be putting undo pressure on employees who are dealing with multiple life demands.
Every workplace has the opportunity to help create the conditions where employees have the resources to do their job and are empowered to do their work in an environment that supports their highest levels of productivity. Can they really do that if they are stressed out?