- Paul Pellman is the CEO of Kazoo, an employee experience platform.
- Pellman writes that fall is one of the most stressful seasons for employees – daily routines change with dwindling sunlight, and seasonal affective disorder is in full swing.
- Stress costs employers $US300 billion annually, and has a real impact on employees and the people around them.
- Managers should check in with their employees, put mental health initiatives in place, offer opportunities to stay active in the workplace, and lead by example.
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From cooler weather to leaf peeping to pumpkin spice lattes, there’s so much to look forward to when it comes to the autumn months. But what we may not realise is this time of year is one of the most stressful for employees in the workplace. With significant changes in daily routines to the dwindling number of daylight hours, we don’t have to look far for the sources of our fall misery.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects around 10 million Americans annually, kicks off during this time of year. The resulting feelings of fatigue, depression, and hopelessness can easily seep into the workplace and are often exacerbated by work-related stress. In addition, according to the “Google misery index” created by former Pew Research analyst Christopher Ingraham, searches for “depression,” “anxiety,” and “stress” peak during the fall months. That trend has not only held steady over the years, but in fact, the same search terms are even higher in 2019.
So what do we as leaders do about this problem to help our employees and ourselves get through it? It starts by understanding the effects of stress and working with employees to manage it.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are three types of stress – acute, episodic acute, and chronic. While stress affects everyone differently, all three of these can negatively impact the health and happiness of employees in your workplace, and lead to a host of other health issues – like burnout. Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation officially classified burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis due to the increase of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
When looking at workplace stress in particular, it costs employers an estimated $US300 billion annually due to absences, turnover, lower productivity, medical costs, and worker’s compensation. Not to mention that an employee’s low morale and loss of motivation often has a contagious effect, spreading angst to others in the office. In the “always-on” culture that is the new norm in today’s workplace, many people have become so accustomed to stress in their everyday lives that they don’t know how to manage it or where to turn.
Many employers may not realise that stress and anxiety have real consequences for their company, and instead they put the task of managing stress on the individual employee. When employees are dealing with stress it can affect concentration, relationships with colleagues, and ultimately work performance. By leaving the employee to manage this alone, companies are actually making the problem worse.
One of the best lines of defence to manage stress in the workplace is to educate managers to better understand the signs of stress and how they can help employees through it. By using organizational programs and behaviours like the ones below, managers can help alleviate the effects of the fall doldrums on their team.
- Listen to your employees. A little communication goes a long way. Face-to-face check-ins show employees that you value their opinions and needs while also giving you an opportunity to see how they are doing. Managers that are attuned to their team will be able to notice the small, but important signs of stress early and can better manage things before they spiral out of control. At a company level, using anonymous, company-wide surveys to measure employee sentiment throughout the year will help you keep a pulse on how they’re doing, which allows you to identify stressors or problem areas and take action at a faster pace.
- Actually address mental health. Nearly one in five adults in the US lives with a mental illness, yet 55% of employees say their employer either does not have (or they were unaware of) a mental health program, initiative, or policy. Destigmatizing mental health in the workplace and providing access to help should be a no brainer given how many employees are affected by it. In addition to publicizing mental health resources and fostering an open dialogue with employees, adding in-office benefits like light therapy for SAD and meditation classes will help destigmatize mental health in the workplace.
- Bring the workout to the office. Regular exercise is well known to improve both physical and mental health, but many employees find it difficult to squeeze it into busy work weeks. In addition to encouraging employees to work out on their own through incentives like gym membership reimbursements, managers can help integrate physical movement directly into the work day. Walking one-on-one meetings, reminder alarms to stand every hour, and taking the stairs to and from lunch are easy ways to get your team moving on a daily basis.
- Lead by example.Employees look to their managers for cues on what’s acceptable in the workplace. Leaders need to show their team it’s ok to disconnect by taking advantage of flexible work schedules or PTO, eating lunch away from the desk, and actually logging off when using sick or mental health days. If managers don’t make an effort to handle their own stress, employees won’t either. Similarly, encourage employees to support one another through physical acts, like helping with a project if they have extra time, as well as digital acts, like messages of encouragement and recognition via social communities.
With fall in full swing, now’s the time to reevaluate how your company looks at stress in the workplace. Learning to manage stress and burnout isn’t just important for helping employees feel happier and healthier – it’s also best practice for retaining top talent. By prioritising the employee rather than their work output, your company will not only be a happier place to work, but also a more productive one.
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