Over the last few years, the subject of mental health and wellbeing at work is no longer considered ‘taboo’. Everyday demands on employees are ever increasing – so how can employers reduce stress in the workplace?
What is stress?
Briefly, stress is a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches into ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals to prepare the body for physical action.
This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to help you take action, to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.
I covered the symptoms of stress in the workplace in my previous article.
There is a lot more you can do as a business, to help your employees manage stress, than you think. Much of it resides in helping them to build up their resilience.
Here are a few helpful stress buster activities:
Encourage your employees to talk to a colleague or a friend – just talking to some one can be helpful, and can help them find solutions and put problems into perspective. Stress can cloud their judgement and prevent them from seeing things clearly.
Stressful situations increase the level of stress hormones, doing exercise can metabolise excessive stress hormones and restore mind and body to a calmer and more relaxed state.
In terms of exercise, it doesn’t have to complicated. You can suggest your employees:
- try going for a walk
- get out into nature into fresh air
- take some ‘me’ time on a daily basis.
Lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. Thoughts command attention, particularly when trying to go to sleep, stopping enough relaxation enough to to fall asleep, and stay asleep.
Suggestions for employees:
- Make sure your bedroom is tranquil, with no cause for distress in it, like being untidy, which might result in you feeling out of control.
- Allow time for your brain to calm – turn off screens and hour before bedtime, and if you must look at a computer or phone make sure it is on night shift.
- Go to bed at the same time every evening, so that your mind and body get used to a predictable routine.
- Read a book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and to give you something different to focus on apart from troublesome thoughts.
Advice on avoiding caffeine and excessive alcohol in the evening would be really helpful, as these are stimulants, and will increase stress rather than reduce it.
Perhaps suggest swapping caffeinated and alcoholic drinks for water and herbal teas in the evening, and in general to stay well hydrated so their bodies will cope better with stress.
This isn’t an easy subject to deal with, however, employees will appreciate the support through encouragement and good information about the affects of refined carbohydrates and sugar, and how much better they will feel and in and out of work.
Sugars and refined carbohydrates are contained in so many manufactured food – like: bread and salad dressings, (just to name two) and can cause energy crashes which may leave employees tired, irritable and unproductive.
Encouraging employees to have a well balanced, nutritional and healthy diet, and making one change every so often can make such a big difference. For instance, they can start by drinking 2 more glasses of water a day than they normally do.
Having a weekly plan of what meals to eat, takes the stress out of meal choices every day. It takes time, but it’s worth it, it also reduces that daily stress of waking up every morning and thinking ‘what am I going to eat today’.
Encouraging employees to make these food planning decisions ahead of time will help them make healthy choices, rather than last minute ‘burger’ choices, particularly when they realise how many carbohydrates are available in fruit and vegetables, and I don’t mean just potatoes. The bottom line about carbs is, we don’t have to eat bread to get the necessary carbs for the day.
A mantra can be seen as seed for energising one’s intention to relax. A self-affirming mantra such as ‘I am calm and peaceful’ or ‘all is well’ or ‘this too shall pass’ can be put to good use if an employee is stressed out. Positive affirmations like these can ease difficult emotional reactions at work.
Saying NO, in the nicest possible way, that is good for you, good for the other person and and good for the situation is a powerful practise to introduce to employees. Putting boundaries in place is empowering for them, even if it is uncomfortable at the time, but in the long run helps them reach more of their potential. It will also allow their points of view to be heard, their states of mind be understood, and may also be a way of finding a solution to something that employees see from their point of view, which is not always easily seen as a boss.
Saying no to something can be difficult , because we all want to be liked and acknowledged for who and what we are, particularly in the work place. It can be demonstrated to employees as a way of being practical, and a way to manage their to do lists. It should be quite easy to say ‘No, I can’t do it right now, would later this morning, or this afternoon or tomorrow be okay, or next week’ etc. whatever is practical in the situation. In this way employees can understand that a decision can be made that is good for them, good for the employer and also good for the business as a whole.
Learning to say NO and putting practical boundaries in place will help to reduce levels of stress, and will boost confidence.
Mindfulness is a buzz word in the workplace nowadays.
It would be revolutionary for a boss to introduce a Mindfulness Meditation into the workplace.
A helpful ‘moment to moment’ practice is a mindful pause, and would be a good short practice to introduce to employees.
This is the Mindful Pause
- Bring yourself into the present moment and ask yourself ‘What is going on with me at the moment?’
- Notice and acknowledge your experience, without judgement, just acceptance for what is here.
- Settle your full attention upon the breathe, and experience each in-breath and each out-breath.
- Noticing the breath in this way can bring you into the present, helping you connect with a state of awareness and stillness.
- Expand your awareness around the breathing to include the whole body and the space it takes up, feeling that your whole body is breathing.
- Whenever there is a tricky situation to deal with, you can use the breath as an anchor.
Encourage employees to take an honest look at their situations, to acknowledge what is going on, and then ask themselves if there is another perspective of the situation that has an upside. In other words, another way of looking at the situation that has a positive outcome. It is so easy to get wrapped up the negative, without acknowledging that there may be a solution for the situation, if the whole picture was taken into account.
In difficult situations where a grudge is held, there is only one person that it is affecting, that is the person holding the grudge. When this is pointed out to employees, it can assist them in understanding that the person who has upset them is blissfully going about their lives not knowing what undesired impact they have had on them.
When this happens it’s almost as if there is a double impact, the first impact is the original action, and the second impact is holding a grudge, instead of calmly taking stock of the situation and finding a solution.
Good advice would be to suggest practicing saying ‘I wish you well’, this alters the emotional state, and can change attachment to the hurt that has been caused. This forgiving attitude, allows a letting go of the grudge, and at the same time a letting go of the person that has upset them – metaphorically speaking – which allows for a the situation to continue on a neutral and understanding basis.
Another supportive suggestive for employees is asking them to enquire what they are grateful for when they wake up in the morning. And also recommend they do the same thing before going to sleep at night. There is always something to learn from what happens each and every day, both good and bad – having a grateful attitude on all occasions, opens up a learning environment in the workplace.
These are just a few ideas and I’m sure there are plenty more ways employers can help reduce stress in the workplace. If you have any, feel free share – simply comment below!