How are you doing today? Are you a little stressed out? A little bit run down? Are you feeling the pressure of having to be “always on”? Research shows that you probably are, and that your employees are, too. Studies gathered by The American Institute of Stress indicate that workers’ stress levels are on the rise due to feelings of having little control but many demands made on them. These stress levels have been linked to increased rates of heart attack and hypertension, as well as depression, anxiety, and burnout.
The On-Demand Workplace, where everyone is constantly connected (and tended to) through tools like Slack and Zoom, has brought about positive changes like adaptability and responsiveness, and the ability to choose what you need when you need it. But it can also lead to an environment where employees feel that they are always on call, never truly separated from their work. It has become the norm, for example, to check emails outside of work, and to be available to field questions or solve problems well outside of traditional working hours. This blurring of boundaries is a major factor in workplace stress. It’s clear that employees need support in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. A recent survey shows that nearly half of adults report crying at work, and 83% of respondents report feeling extremely stressed at work at least once a week. Workplace stress has reached epidemic levels, with very real consequences for workers. So what can employers do to support their stressed-out employees and improve their physical and mental wellness in today’s on-demand working world?
The strict 9-to-5 workday is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Yes, the now-unavoidable fact of working hours creeping into what used to be considered personal time has contributed in great part to the problem at hand, but it’s also where one of the best solutions lies: flexibility. Flexibility in scheduling has been proven to reduce workplace stress and improve productivity. Workers with flexible schedules report higher levels of job satisfaction and less absenteeism. Flexible working hours, the ability to work from home, and a generous or unlimited PTO policy help employees to get the job done while also attending to personal needs. It allows parents to be there to pick their kids up from school, lets the night owl take advantage of their most productive hours, and gives employees the freedom to make choices that support a healthy work-life balance.
It’s to everyone’s benefit to encourage employees to take a day off when they’re feeling especially stressed, anxious, or depressed. Your employees’ mental health should be viewed in the same way as their physical health. You wouldn’t ask them to come to work when they have a bad cold or are running a fever and would be too sick to perform at their best. When they’re feeling low emotionally, taking a day for themselves is basic self-care.
Just as with physical health, preventative care and healthy choices are key to good mental health. Remind employees to step away from the screens and take a break periodically. Slack has found a great way to work this into their company’s culture by ringing a “coffee gong” every day at 3pm to encourage staff to take a moment to relax with a cup of coffee and socialize with their co-workers. This communal pause builds downtime into the rhythm of the workday, and given employees a natural way to connect with each other.
Offerings like in-house yoga classes, regularly scheduled chair massages, and even an on-premises gym are great ways to get your employees moving for stress relief and better physical and mental health. Likewise, it’s a good idea to be sure that kitchens and pantries are stocked with healthy snacks, and that water is available and conveniently located. But you can also look to the basic realities of your employees’ lives–such as their commute–for opportunities to promote wellness. For example, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon, provides a free bike valet to park and guard employee’s bicycles, who also offers low-cost bicycle repair and maintenance while the rider is at work. In addition to this service, OHSU pays employees an additional $1.50 each day that they walk or bike to work. This small reward for something the company then makes easier for them via the bike valet encourages employees to make the healthier choice for their bodies and the environment, and adds to a workplace culture of wellness.
What do your employees need to feel good and be at their best? One of the lessons of the on-demand workplace is that one-size-fits-all solutions are neither effective nor necessary. Look for wellness programs and offerings that can be tailored to meet a variety of individual needs. For example, you might create areas in the office where employees can go to relax whenever they feel they need it. Common areas where they can hang out and socialize are helpful, but also consider small, comfortable rooms where employees can go to meditate, sit quietly, or just be alone for a bit. Today’s open-plan offices can wreak havoc on the introvert’s well-being, and a quiet room with a door that closes can be just the ticket. Encourage employees to take breaks on their own schedule throughout the day, and if possible to get outside for a walk to unwind and recharge.
How about taking a cue from the on-demand world and opting for software that supports your staff? For example, you can provide telehealth solutions for accessible remote healthcare services to make it as easy as possible for your employees to connect with their healthcare providers. Another great solution is implementing software that supports you, by strengthening your ability to support your staff. Giving employees immediate access to support, and making the ticketing process as streamlined as possible, eases stress and allows them to get back to work faster.
To truly create a culture of wellness in an organization, it has to include HR leaders and employers, too. Why don’t you take a break right now? Maybe go outside for a nice walk. Maybe, just maybe, even leave your phone behind on your desk. Go ahead. The work will wait.