How to Conquer Workplace Stress

Stress is the leading workplace health problem, according to the CDC. Use these tactics to calm your company culture.

It’s not hard to trace the sources of workplace stress. Texts and emails demand our attention 24/7. Workspaces come with less personal space. Team dynamics lead to inevitable personality clashes. It’s no wonder the CDC names stress as the leading workplace health problem. 

But stress isn’t an individual employee problem. It has organizational causes—and solutions. And fortunately, creative ideas for reducing stress are as plentiful as the stressors themselves. The following examples reveal what innovative companies are doing to soothe workplace anxiety.

Forget “unlimited” vacation.

The stats suggest we all need a vacation. The majority of U.S. workers don’t use up their allotted vacation time, according to the U.S. Travel Association. As a solution, a growing number of companies are introducing unlimited vacations, where workers can take as much time off as they want as long as they get their jobs done. Ironically, this policy often creates more stress.

For one thing, workers are sometimes unsure how much vacation they can really take. Brock Blake, CEO of Lendio, had salespeople complain that unlimited vacation was a hollow benefit to those who work on commission. So the company fine-tuned the policy.

“That was critical feedback,” Blake says. “Now, when a salesperson takes a planned vacation, the company pays an accelerated sales commission rate for that month.”

Create a natural environment.

A little dose of nature can be one of the most powerful antidotes to stress. For example, “Companies like Zendesk have built living walls to bring the outdoors in,” notes Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness That Works. And Gallup’s headquarters feature multistory windows, overlooking a river and greenery, which let natural light stream in. 

“The minute you walk into the space, you can feel the calming effects,” Putnam says. Even something as simple as indoor plants or a fish tank can help reduce office stress.

Let the music play.

Here’s one tactic you might not have on your list: music. For example, starting a group for employees to sing together can significantly reduce stress and feelings of isolation, according to a University of Leicester study.

GreenPal, which describes itself as an “Uber for lawn mowing,” maintains a music room for employees. “Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage every area of the brain and helps reduce stress,” says company co-founder Gene Caballero.

Cut off the inbox.

Modern workers treat emails like 911 calls. People open three-quarters of their emails within six seconds of receiving them, even though the vast majority aren’t urgent.

To combat the overload, some companies limit the periods when people can check email.

Build in time for team camaraderie.

Many of us complain about how many meetings we have. So why not reduce the length of meetings? How about blocking off Monday mornings or Friday afternoons as a way of respecting your workers’ weekends?

To ease stress, founder Mike Sheety requires each team in the company to have a sit-down lunch once a week. Rule No. 1: You’re not allowed to discuss work. 

Live and let learn.

Quiet rooms and nap pods may be all the rage, but a University of Michigan study suggests that learning something new can be an even greater buffer against stress than relaxation. Learning can provide knowledge to both address immediate stressors and give workers new abilities to handle future stress.

Electric vehicle company Chanje puts this idea into action by encouraging employees to devote 20% of their working hours to a formal self-improvement program. In the program, they learn skills such as how to give better feedback or when to speak up during a disagreement.

Bend an ear.

The idea of simply toughing out a troubling situation just makes stress worse, so companies are looking for ways to let employees vent.

Zillow partnered with Bravely, a tech platform that connects employees with professional coaches for confidential conversations about issues they face at work. For example, the coaches help workers rehearse tough conversations they need to have with their boss.

Other companies are addressing stressors outside the workplace. N2 Publishing, for instance, offers married team members a $400 stipend annually for couples retreats or counseling.

If you’re unsure what stress-busting perk to give workers, let them pick their own. A growing number of companies provide stipends so employees can spend them on the stress relievers, such as workout gear or massages, that work best for them. 

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