Workplace stress was on the rise, even before the pandemic began. Now, over 40% of U.S. and Canadian workers say they’re stressed out on the job every day. April is National Stress Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to plan some fun, stress-busting activities—and we’ve got some great ideas for you. We also share suggestions for how to leverage the stress management resources you already have, and take a look at elements of workplace culture that have a significant impact on employee stress levels.
How to celebrate Stress Awareness Month in the workplace.
Let’s face it. The past two years have been stressful for everyone. And while small perks or events won’t “cure” stress at work, they do tend to boost morale and make people happier. Here are a few ideas for how to observe Stress Awareness Month:
Surprise employees with a company-wide paid day off.
Employees are asking for a break. In fact, in a Paychex/Future Workforce study, 35% of respondents cited additional time off as the number one action that would improve their well-being. If your organization and industry allow, try offering employees a surprise company-wide day off. Encourage people to stay away from work and resist the urge to check emails during the break.
Send out self-care kits.
Gifting employees with a self-care kit can help them manage their stress—all while sending the signal that you care about their well-being and encourage them to take the time to manage their health. Whether mailed to homes or desk-dropped, employees will appreciate a gift of self-care like candles, essential oils and diffusers, stress balls, healthy snacks, loose leaf tea, a gift card to a bookstore, a journal, chocolates—get creative!
Provide meditation tutorials.
Meditation can be a daunting thing to start on your own, so offer employees a discounted subscription to a meditation app. If space allows, transform a vacant office into a meditation space for employees to use throughout the day. If you have a dispersed workforce, consider sending calendar invites that allow people to participate in a company-wide meditation together.
Offer healthy lunch on the house.
Everybody loves a free lunch, right? Make it even more impactful by pairing it with a Lunch & Learn on stress management. Tip: deliver lunch to remote employees and have them join via video.
Invite employees to yoga classes.
Yoga can help relax both the mind and the body. Entice employees to take a yoga class at work or virtually by raffling off a yoga mat and accessories. If you can, host the class outside or encourage virtual employees to participate in a yoga session outdoors to get a double boost to mental health.
Support healthy eating and exercise.
When people eat better, they feel better. And working out can also improve moods and help people relax. Offer a healthy meal service discount, small gift cards to a health food store, or a personal training session with an onsite health coach.
Get inspired by nature.
Spending time in nature reduces stress, so why not bring nature into the work environment? A plant for a desk or home office, a soothing desktop water fountain, or even a small lightbox that replicates natural daylight are all great ideas that can help ease stress and improve moods. Also, encourage managers to take meetings with their team members outside. Walk-and-talks are a great opportunity to take a break from your desk and get some fresh air during the workday.
Give away gratitude journals.
Psychologists have documented the positive effects of practicing gratitude on our emotional and physical health. Give everyone a small notebook to record the things they’re grateful for. At the end of the month, you could create a gratitude wall—in-person or virtual—that allows participants to share entries if they want to.
How to help employees manage stress all year long.
Once National Stress Awareness Month is over, take a look at the programs and resources you offer to help with reducing stress in the workplace year-round. Chances are, you already have many of the building blocks in place. You may just need to promote these resources more and make it easy for employees to access them.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
EAPs offer a great deal of help for stress, yet they’re among the most underutilized benefits employers provide.1 In addition to connecting employees with mental health professionals, EAPs can help people with the things that cause stress in life—like marriage and relationship concerns, lack of sleep, finances, legal issues, trauma and loss, and life transitions.
Stress management and resilience training.
These programs help people learn strategies to manage emotions, react to stressful situations, and adapt to change. They also teach resilience, which is critical to our ability to deal with adversity and recover quickly after a challenge.
Mental health benefits.
Whether you provide mental health support through the EAP, tele-mental health, text/chat apps, or even onsite mental health counselors, make sure employees know exactly what’s available. For example, many employees have no idea that most EAPs offer a generous number of free, confidential visits with a counselor. Employees also need to know that they don’t need to be experiencing a full-blown crisis to use these services—they’re available for the daily stressors of life, too.
Paid time off and leaves.
Encourage employees to take advantage of vacation and leave benefits to recharge and refresh. Develop a plan to temporarily restructure responsibilities so they don’t return to a mountain of work. Company-wide three-day weekends, mandated week-long shutdowns, holiday closings, and time off to volunteer are also good policies to implement to reduce stress.
How to establish a supportive workplace culture.
When asked about what’s causing so much stress at work, employees cite unrealistic expectations, lack of transparency and communication, and lack of support and recognition as the major causes. In addition, stressors in people’s personal lives understandably tend to spill over into the workplace.
So, while stress management programs and meditation apps are helpful components of a well-rounded approach to reducing employee stress in the workplace, they often treat the symptoms, not the cause.
What has a more lasting effect on stress is taking a critical look at workplace culture and the subtle signals around work expectations. Employers also need to assess whether they provide enough support for certain aspects of their lives outside of work that contributes to stress.
Here are a few things to consider in your organization:
Employees want the freedom to structure their work schedule to reduce stress in their life. This might mean a compressed workweek or alternate work hours. Work location is also key—many employees say they would like to continue working remotely indefinitely, and that this flexibility would be a massive factor in deciding to stay with a current job or take a new one.
Permission to set boundaries.
One of the great lessons of the pandemic—which we truly needed to learn a long time ago—is that we need to set boundaries for our mental health. This means hours when we don’t respond to email, a set time for logging off, and maybe even a block of time during the workday when we engage in self-care, like a walk or meditation. Most importantly, leaders and managers need to model these behaviors, which effectively “grants” employees permission to do the same.
If you don’t have an employee recognition program, it may be time to start one. Publicly recognizing the hard work and contributions of team members decreases stress and increases feelings of connection and belonging.2 There are many ways to recognize employees—from formal recognition platforms to simple handwritten notes. The important thing is to make it a regular part of the culture.
Support for caregiving.
Child and elder care are huge sources of stress for employees, so let them know the EAP helps to locate providers. Also, explore solutions that bring care to the office—like onsite daycare—or add benefits like childcare allowances or backup childcare. Allow flexibility and time off to care for and attend doctor appointments with older family members.
Financial wellness support.
Financial stress is real: over half of respondents (53%) in a 2021 survey conducted by FINRA said that thinking about their finances makes them anxious, and 44% said that discussing their finances is stressful. Employers can alleviate some of this stress by offering financial wellness in the workplace like repayment programs for student loan debt, financial education to help with managing debt and creating a budget, savings programs, and financial counseling.
There are lots of different strategies for reducing stress in the workplace. Our best advice is to offer a robust array of benefits and programs that can help employees manage stress in the moment, but more importantly, to strive toward a workplace culture that seeks to reduce stress at its source. For help managing stress in your organization, visit our website or contact us at email@example.com.