How less strain may help make your organization healthier, more productive

Stress in the workforce has become one of the biggest problems in business today. It has been called a global epidemic, with numerous studies encouraging businesses to be more proactive in helping their employees manage stress.

“Every day, people deal with stress at work or in their personal lives — or probably both,” says Veronica Hawkins, Medical Mutual’s Vice President, Government Accounts, which includes the State of Ohio and Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. “Organizations need to understand the effect it can have on the health of their employees and what that means for the future of their business.”

Smart Business spoke with Hawkins about how stress in the workplace can impact an organization’s bottom line and what can be done to help employees manage stress and be healthier and more productive in the process.

Why is it important to manage stress in the workplace?

With the high demand and fast pace of today’s work environment, employees at practically every level of an organization are dealing with some level of stress. By providing stress management resources, you can help employees be healthier and control your health care costs. Healthy employees are often happier and more productive workers, so it benefits your business to offer assistance to reduce stress whenever possible. In many cases, turnover and absenteeism rates can also decrease.

What effect does stress actually have on a person’s health?

Of course, there are the immediate effects, which can include headaches, upset stomach and loss of sleep. But there are also more long-term consequences. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, which makes it tougher to fight off illness, causing people to get sick more often. It’s also linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, heart attacks, anxiety and depression. These conditions, and others, can even get worse as a result of continuous stress.

What are the best ways for people to reduce their stress levels?

Diet, exercise and adequate sleep are definitely very important. When your body feels good, your mind often does, too. While people often adopt poor eating and lifestyle habits as a form of stress relief, those habits actually make the symptoms worse. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can have a significant impact on stress as well. Even at work, if feasible, employees should be encouraged to do things like go for a walk at lunch or use the stairs instead of the elevator.

Beyond diet and exercise, learning how to manage time can make a big difference. In the workplace, it’s helpful to keep track of projects and deadlines and prioritize effectively. Employees should also be encouraged to discuss challenges that arise in meeting deadlines or ask for help. That will help reduce stress for those employees and make sure projects get done on time.

What can organizations do to help their employees?

Many companies will offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) and stress management training. These programs are designed to help employees understand the nature of stress, its sources and how stress can affect a person’s health. They teach employees personal skills to reduce their stress levels, such as time management or relaxation techniques.

EAPs will also provide individual counseling for employees who need help coping with work or personal issues. Some companies will even work with EAP counselors or professional consultants to help them identify the most stressful aspects of their workplace and develop strategies to reduce or eliminate them.

What else should we understand about stress?

Unfortunately for most of us, it’s tough to get rid of all the stress factors in life. But everyone can find ways to manage and control how he or she responds and reacts to these stressors. Helping your employees along in the process could help your organization be healthier — both physically and financially.

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