What is something small, medium, large businesses and every single human being on this earth have in common, and need to be aware of and concerned about? Stress! We all experience it because it's normal; we're human. Some stress is actually good because it motivates us to accomplish what is needed.
Because we all experience stress, we all know that there is workplace stress and personal stress, and no matter where we experience it, we likely will carry that with us wherever we go. So we're all clear, let's define stress.
Stress, as defined by Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, is "the result produced when a structure, system or organism is acted upon by forces that disrupt equilibrium or produce strain". In terms we can understand, stress is the result of any emotional, physical, social, economic, or other factors that require a response or change.
What causes workplace stress? According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), workplace stress is caused by fear of job redundancy, layoffs, and increased demands for overtime are all negative stressors. Employees who start to feel the "pressure to perform" can continue to feel stress over long periods.
My two cents - consistent deadlines are the mountain peak of workplace stressors. How do you tell you have an over stressed workforce? According to the CMHA, you will see job dissatisfaction, employee turnover, reduced efficiency, illness and even death; you will notice absenteeism, illness, alcoholism, "petty internal politics", bad or snap decisions, indifference and apathy, lack of motivation or creativity.
In addition, what happens when an employee is stressed after long periods? This is where you can crash into serious problems. At the very extreme, between 5 and 10 years of continued stress, you could experience the following: asthma, heart conditions, severe depression, lowered self-esteem/self-confidence, inability to perform one's job, inability to manage personal life, withdrawal, uncontrolled anger, grief, rage, suicidal or homicidal thinking, extreme chronic fatigue, over-reaction to minor events, agitation, frequent accidents, carelessness, forgetfulness, paranoia.
Do we need to let stress go this far? Absolutely not!From all these stress by-products, keep in mind, they will likely tag along their ugly cousins that look like: increased sick days, being less productive, increased health care costs, increased company costs, increased turnover, attracting poor quality talent, and an overall potential hostile work environment.
You don't need me to point out that this situation isn't good for anybody (I guess I will anyway). What is very interesting comes from a study by the National Small Business Association (NSBA) where they surveyed 1005 U.S. small businesses. They found that 93% of small business decision-makers (who have never had a health and wellness program) say the health of their employees is important to their business bottom line, yet only 22% are currently offering a wellness program.
And the top concern found among small business owners? You guessed it, and right on topic, - high stress levels. So, why then are these employee health concerns not translating into employer wellness action? The answer is definitely not what I thought - it's the lack of employee interest at a whopping 46% of them! (I think it stems from a lack of knowledge on the subject of workplace wellness).
Smaller concerns are difficulty to administer (21%), concern for employee privacy (12%), fear of singling out employees (7%), and 11% are unsure/don't know. The solution is very easy. We Wellness Experts need to educate the small businesses on Workplace Wellness.
An average of 56% of small businesses say there is not enough information out there regarding implementing health and wellness programs for small businesses. That's where we, the experts, come in. We have the information and we need to provide it to the small businesses.
We have the knowledge and abilities to put their concerns to rest and give them the confidence they need in knowing that in today's competitive market, they need to implement a wellness program that suits their needs. Coincidentally, 69% of the small businesses surveyed said they would be more interested in a wellness program they could customize to suit their small business needs. Easy.
Perhaps, the gap between the importance of employee health to small businesses and the action of implementing a health and wellness program, lies in the possibility that they do not think a wellness program is the right gap filler, or the right glue that connects employee health to the business bottom line.
Do you remember the 93% of businesses who have never had a wellness program believe employee health is important to the bottom line? Only 35% of those businesses are convinced that a program would positively influence their bottom line.
These findings further make it clear that this gap can start to be filled by simply providing the information they need and want. Sounds easy, doesn't it? My first sentence of this article answers that question - no it isn't. I've heard the answer "send me an email with information and we'll get back to you" too many times.
Perhaps the solution is to get the attention of the owner/head of the company instead of the Gatekeeper. Employers need to be concerned enough to take the action necessary to help their employees manage their stress, no matter what size the business. Why am I focusing on small business?
Small businesses make up 98% of all businesses in Canada and 97% of all businesses in the United States, that's why. No other stats required. What can small business employers do for employee stress relief? First, based on this article and other references you can find, assess your workplace looking for signs of stressed employees.
Second, survey your staff. If you start with an anonymous survey, you will likely get more candid answers and a better scope of what is going on in your workplace. Let them know that their input is important to you, you accept their honesty, and their jobs are not at risk for being candid, then perhaps your employees can start to feel comfortable to reveal their anonymity.
This can then open the door to a work environment based on respect and honesty and where each other's needs are met in order to maintain peak job performance and enhance the bottom line. What else can employers do? They can:
- Involve employees in the decision making concerning wellness, and other areas
- Put policies visible in the workplace that clearly outlines your commitment to acknowledging, and relieving, stress
- Ensure the heads of departments/managers are knowledgeable about the signs of stress and to be proactive about looking for these signs and taking action to help those get the stress relief they need
- Be clear about job expectations and, where possible, be flexible on deadlines
- Reward your employees with what and when you can. Even a "good job" can go a long way.
- Seek an external wellness provider for stress-relieving services and ideas
If you are going to seek an external provider, what should you look for?
- Someone that is interested in providing you with what you want and need by listening to you and your staff with active conversations and ongoing surveys
- Someone who takes the time to educate you on Workplace Wellness; it's important that you are confident and knowledgeable on the subject.
- Someone who provides proof that their service providers are certified (I have encountered ones that willing to practice without certification and those that allow it)
- Someone who monitors their offerings and are willing/able to change your program, as needed
- Someone who can tailor a program to suit your business needs, not someone who has a one-size-fits-all solution
- Someone who designs, implements, and manages a program such that it makes your lives easier and not busier by burdening you with too many tasks to perform for your program
So what would some small business "Stress Relief Programs" look like? Here are some ideas:
- For the "micro" size business of 2-9 employees:
- massage once a month, which gives them something to look forward to; something to work hard and be rewarded for
- walk/running club
- introduce something not everyone has tried and change it up (i.e. have a "Reiki Day" or "Acupuncture for Stress Relief Day") every month
2. For 10-49 employees:
- guided meditation/yoga
- massage - have someone come in weekly, or more frequently, where employees sign up
- fitness class - ideally 3 times/week, utilizing the space you have or outdoors (ask a wellness provider for other options)
3. For 50-100 employees
- departmental stretch breaks
- guided meditation/yoga
- massage - weekly or more, where employees sign up
- fitness classes - ideally 3 times/week
The above are just a few examples, there are so much more. For any individual, and any size business, I highly recommend yoga and meditation for stress relief. They are extremely peaceful, relaxing, and soothing modalities. They also have scientific proof to back up their benefits - it's not just stress relief.Not everyone may be aware of this; however, nutrition is involved in stress relief as well.
There are such things as "Mood Foods". My favourite example - eating 1.4oz of dark chocolate every day for 2 weeks reduces stress hormones, including cortisol, in people who are highly stressed, found from a study done at the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland. Stress relief is the most important factor in achieving good mental health.
In my opinion, mental health comes first. You can exercise and eat well but if you're mentally still stressed or you have anxiety, or some other mental health issue, the exercising and eating well is not going to feel as good as it could be. Our minds are stronger than our bodies so you must keep your mind healthy!
Stress is also the number one factor that causes disturbances in the workplace, such as absenteeism, and chronic injury/illness, where both are wreaking havoc on the economy. So now you're a little more knowledgeable about stress and its impact on employees, the business bottom line and why employers should be concerned and how they can be proactive about the solution - implementing a wellness program that suits their business needs. There is so much to gain that you have to ask yourself, what do you have to lose? Stress of course!
About the Author
Elana Magen owns and operates Executive Exercise, which provides workplace wellness programs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After some experience in the wellness industry, while still servicing businesses of all sizes, we are now focusing on small businesses where there is a strong wellness need. "Keep Your Business Moving.