Workers across all industries and sectors deal with workplace stress. Research from the American Psychological Association suggests workers who perform manual labor or work in customer service, sales or entertainment are more likely than workers in administration, management, or desk jobs to say they have experienced symptoms of physical fatigue, cognitive weariness, and emotional exhaustion at work quite frequently or more often in the past 30 workdays. The workers experiencing these symptoms were also more likely to say that mental and physical problems kept them from achieving their goals at work in the past month. Similarly, across all industries, lower-level employees were more likely to experience the negative impacts of work-related stress and over 30 percent had felt fed up with work frequently or more often in the past 30 days.
General stress-reduction strategies and incorporating mental health supports will benefit workers. Below are examples of approaches and ideas some employers have found to be beneficial:
- Shine a light on mental health at the highest level and keep the topic in the forefront. Organizations can create a sense of psychological safety and demonstrate their commitment to address workplace stress and mental health by having their leaders come forward to address these topics and share their own stories about stressors or mental health struggles. If the boss can admit to having trouble, this communicates acceptance and empathy to others who are struggling. Across the world, top-level senior managers have done just that, holding organization-wide virtual webinars, issuing emails, or communicating via other means to let their staff know they are not alone and should not be ashamed if they are struggling. Talking about mental health is not a “one and done” activity; it should be broached repeatedly. For example, you could include mental health as an agenda topic during every all-hands meeting, instruct managers to select a mental health topic to explore each month, and encourage them to find authentic ways to talk about their selected topic with staff throughout the month. Also, CEO and President videos, emails, and weekly all-employee calls that focus on mental health help demonstrate empathy and remind workers to pay attention to their mental health and reach out for support when needed.
- Promote self-care, mindfulness, and general mental well-being. Organizations are implementing strategies to educate workers about self-care and mindfulness activities to help them cope with stress. Employers and supervisors are encouraged to engage their workers to determine what strategies may be most supportive in their workplace. Examples include:
- Providing access to mobile apps that aim to build emotional resilience and improve sleep habits.
- Offering “Mindful Moment” meditation sessions for workers multiple times a week or full web-based meditation or yoga classes.
- Identifying internal staff who can lead self-care activities for the entire company (e.g., weekly, virtual, guided meditation sessions).
- Implementing structured wellness challenges centered on self-care activities to encourage employees to engage in wellness activities.
- Hosting virtual yoga classes or virtual workouts.
- Supporting mental health awareness campaigns.
- Providing information on Employee Assistance Programs.
- Provide a forum for interested workers to share personal stories and support one another. To spark important mental health conversations, some companies feature stories from workers who are willing to share their life experiences on topics such as self-care, caring for children with special needs, and seeking drug and alcohol recovery services virtually. Hearing stories like this from a respected friend and colleague can inspire others to open up and join the conversation. Other ideas include adopting a Drug and Alcohol amnesty program to encourage workers to come forward and seek help for substance use rather than a “No Tolerance” policy.
- Check in with workers on a regular basis to see how they are doing and if they have suggestions on how to alleviate workplace stress. No matter whether it is done as a one-on-one interaction (in person or virtually) or as an anonymous online survey, the best way to help workers is to ask them what is stressing them at work. While some workers may not want to discuss their stress or mental health at work, providing a supportive environment to do so allows workers to share any ideas they may have on how to lessen the stress for employers to implement. Some examples of effective strategies include:
- Ask leaders to regularly check in with each worker via email or 1:1 conversation to ask how they are doing and if they need anything to improve their working experience.
- Launch a series of in-house surveys to ask workers how they are faring, whether they are working too many hours, if they are experiencing virtual meeting fatigue, and whether they are having difficulty maintaining their creativity when they are physically separated from their colleagues. Then use feedback to form employee focus groups and brainstorm ideas to improve the work experience.
- Set aside time to conduct check-in meetings, either as a small group or one-on-one, before starting a work shift, at a point throughout the workday, or at the conclusion of work to hear from employees about stressors they are experiencing.
- Provide and expand health and employee assistance program benefits and services. Employers can make a difference in their workers’ lives by securing or expanding health care packages and employee assistance program services that address mental health and well-being. For example, they can consider implementing, at no cost to workers, weekly self-care instructional/training videos, one-on-one health coaching for staff and their spouses, manager well-being calls, weekly well-being communications, live meditation sessions and activity breaks, resiliency and stress management activities, and morale-boosting activities. Other useful resources may include daily group counseling sessions for employees experiencing challenges with caring for children, elderly, or family or household members with disabilities.
- Support an attitude of gratitude. It is important to make a concerted effort to be positive, identify and praise workers’ achievements, and encourage staff to look for the good that still exists around them. For example, consider launching an “attitude of gratitude” challenge that focuses on the positive, or an employee recognition program to highlight workers (via social media, articles, and live Webcasts) who have taken action to support each other or their broader communities. Keeping it simple, creating a virtual gratitude board for workers to share what they are grateful for can be beneficial.
- Promote a culture of safety and health in the workplace. To promote compliance, top leadership and managers within the company should lead by example and consistently reinforce safety practices and look for opportunities to get workers involved. Employers can alleviate concerns by ensuring that workers are supplied with necessary protective gear and implementing other protective measures that will keep them safe and healthy, at no cost to workers.
- Educate workers about the organization’s existing safety precautions and ask for their feedback. The absence of information can cause worries to fester. To prevent this, employers should communicate with their workers regularly in a language they understand to explain what protection measures they have implemented to protect them. More importantly, employers should then ask their workers for feedback on those measures to determine if more can be done to make them feel safe, such as implementing new procedures or helping to enforce protective measures among co-workers and customers. OSHA has created a sample list of questions (see Sample Survey Questions) that employers can use to gauge their workers’ perception of existing protective measures. With this feedback in hand, employers can either implement additional protective measures to reduce workers’ concerns, or at least explain why a certain course of action has been taken.
- Regularly provide safety and health training that includes a focus on mental health and ask for worker feedback. Education and training are important tools for informing workers and managers about workplace hazards and controls so they can work more safely and be more productive. Employers should ensure mental health and workplace stress are included in trainings. Trainings should always be done in the language the workers understand. Employers should underscore their business model succeeds when workers stay healthy and finish the day and go home safely. Workers feel trusted when employers ask them for ideas or improvements and follow-up on suggestions. When possible, provide them time during work hours, if necessary, to research solutions.
- Protect workers from workplace violence. Conflict is stressful, both when it occurs and when workers anticipate that it might. Employers must find ways to help de-escalate and prepare for these stressful situations, such as having workers approach non-complying customers in teams of two; training them on threat recognition, conflict resolution, and nonviolent responses; and providing backup support in the form or managers, security, or law enforcement. See OSHA’s workplace violence webpage for additional resources.