April is Stress Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to increase awareness about the causes and cures for what has become an epidemic in our modern society.
Stress is on the rise in the American workplace. Americans work the longest hours of any industrialized nation. Japan, at number two, comes in at the equivalent of almost two weeks less.
The difficult economic situation of recent years has caused companies to downsize and layoff hundreds of thousands of workers. Those remaining for the most part have had to pick up a good portion of their work, adding more pressure to their already stressful days.
The effects of rising stress levels in the workplace include employee turnover and increased absenteeism. Medical and insurance rates can also rise, as well as Workers Compensation costs. Workplace stress affects productivity, which can adversely affect the bottom line. Stress in the workplace costs U.S. corporations over $300 billion annually (American Institute of Stress).
During April, why not offer your employees or students some stress-busting ideas? All of the following are no- or low-cost, and just require some time and planning.
- Laughter is a great stress reliever. April 1 may have been April Fool’s Day, but the jokes can continue! Add a daily joke or cartoon to your intranet site, or post them in common areas like cafeterias and lounges. Check out www.ahajokes.com. Or sponsor a joke-of-the-week contest among your employees.
- One of the best ways to manage stress is regular exercise. Offer inexpensive pedometers to your employees and encourage them to walk during lunch breaks, or before or after work. Help them form teams for mutual support and friendly competition.
- Stretching exercises like yoga are beneficial in stress reduction. If space permits, offer sample lessons in yoga, tai chi or basic stretching. You may be able to find a local professional who would be willing to provide the sessions at no charge.
- Host a Lunch and Learn session on stress management. Invite your organization’s health care professional to present topics such as warning signs, personal and professional impact, relaxation techniques and other stress management tips.
- Offer a session on work organization. Often disorganization will cause an employee undue stress. Include topics such as scheduling, overcommitting, task management, delegating and prioritizing.
- Utilize your EAP! Use Stress Awareness Month as another opportunity to remind your population of your Employee or Student Assistance Program. Remember that while work pressures cause stress, there are very many more stressors in your employees’ lives. Your EAP is designed to assist with all facets of stress. Your EAP contact can assist you with ideas and program materials that can be distributed in a variety of ways.
Importantly, don’t neglect your own workplace stress level! All too often, those of us in HR dismiss high stress levels as inevitable, given that our own workload is on top of the need for supporting our employees and managers. However, all of us are at our best and most productive when we are healthy and happy at work, and that requires managing our stress levels. It’s important to follow your own advice to others. Above all, don’t be hesitant or embarrassed to call your EAP yourself.
With some educational opportunities that can also be fun, you and your employees or students will make a great start on the road to reducing workplace stress and restoring healthy living.