Temperatures are rising and companies are demanding more from their employees. Being tasked to achieve more with less, employees are often putting in additional hours to successfully complete their activities. Add the different working week plus the time differences and you have employees working even more hours. It’s all adding up and it’s leaving a mark on employees. 1 in 7 employees are stressed out.

What’s stress?

We all experience stress which is primarily a physical response. Releasing hormones and chemicals like adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, our body prepares for the physical action and gains a rush of energy. The “fight or flight” mode is fully underway.

Every person experiences stress differently and leaders need to recognise this. What they may be able to handle, their employees may not and vice versa. Some symptoms of stress include inability to concentrate, anxious or racing thoughts, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, general unhappiness, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities.

Working an exhausting work schedule may not be the only reason for stress. Financial problems (e.g. increasing rent or cost of living, high education fees), separation from family members, health issues but also poor working conditions (e.g. improper lighting, insufficient air conditioning) or conflicts with team members can lead to stress.

What can you as a company do?

Companies can support stressed employees in many ways:

Identify the root cause for stress. This may be the biggest challenge as employees may not want to reveal the real reason for their stress(es). There may also be multiple sources causing stress stemming from work-related issues and from other parts of the employee’s life. Leaders and HR should work together to establish the reason before identifying how the company can support their employees. Regardless of what will be implemented, it needs to be aligned to other organisational and HR programmes and can’t stand in contrast to them.

Clarify the role and expectations. Leaders can remove the uncertainty around the role’s purpose, tasks or evaluation criteria by discussing these with their employees on a regular basis. Traditionally, annual performance reviews have been used for these while we see a trend to more frequent conversations. Leaders can use these to re-connect with their employees and also understand how their employees are doing (e.g. through a pulse survey).

Speak out. For many cultures, it’s not seen as permittable for men to express stress. It’s part of being successful. These days, some industries are recognising that constant stress does not lead to increased productivity or consequently to increased success. They are encouraging their employees to acknowledge stress and to find ways to reduce it before they’ll get burnt out. Stress-prone industries like banking are slowly adjusting their views after the stress diagnosis of Lloyds Banking Group’s CEO Antonio Horta-Osório in 2011 and Sir Hector Sants resignation from Barclays for stress reasons in 2013.

Prepare for temporary stress. Many jobs have fluctuating demands and go through busier periods (e.g. bid proposal, year-end closing). As the team enters such a period, leaders can prepare them for the temporary stress. They can outline how long this period is expected to last and clarify once again the roles and responsibilities. This helps the employee to prepare for and cope during the upcoming stress. Upon completion of this period, celebrate with the team, for example with a team lunch.

Create a support network. Employees need an effective group which supports them during stressful periods. This may be family members and friends or can be colleagues from the same or other teams. Personal relationships provide stability and a feeling of security, where the employee can receive advice and guidance. They act as some release and offer encouragement to the employee, showing support along the way.

Get moving. To counter the stress experienced, employees are encouraged to get moving and to work out. This can include a 20-minute-long walk, for example after lunch or as part of a meeting (walking meeting). Before or after work, employees can release their tension by participating in a spinning class, practicing yoga or swimming. Companies can arrange for these work out sessions or contribute to gym membership fees.

Engage the senses. Companies don’t utilise interior designers often enough when it comes to the office fit out. Providing appropriate light (e.g. at desk level rather than ceiling lamps only), using plants and applying different wall colours can provide a soothing atmosphere which in return leads to increased productivity. Sounds of water flowing can be found in many atriums as it has a calming effect on visitors. Companies can make use of the 5 senses for employees to experience and reduce their stress.

Eat a healthy diet. Many companies are providing drinks and snacks for their employees. Larger employers also have a cafeteria. Companies can thus influence their employees’ eating choices and provide healthy alternatives. Going one step further, some companies are working with their medical insurance provider and are providing cooking classes, where the employee re-learns what constitutes a healthy and balanced diet.

Get sufficient breaks. Employees require breaks during the normal working day to relax and revitalise. Having at least one weekly rest day, generally on the weekend, allows the employee to recharge their energies. Especially for employees travelling on business and across time zones, companies should ensure they get adequate rest before starting their work again. Travel time is to be considered as working time.

Provide Personal Finance 101 courses. While companies have traditionally focused on health-related solutions as a way of supporting their employees, some employers are taking it one step further and are also providing information and guidance for personal topics like finance. With the rising cost of living and the legal consequences for impaired personal finances, companies are starting to offer basic finance course focusing on creating budgets, identifying spending needs, reducing debt and planning for retirement.

With stress being and expected to remain as one of the biggest challenges for companies, employers have not only an obligation to support their employees experiencing stress. Companies can choose to stand above the competition and become a great employer applying a wide variety of solutions fit for their employees’ needs. These suggestions were a small peak into the possibilities!

Do you want to reduce the stress levels in your organisation, yet are too busy to do it yourself? Call us on +971-50-5516322 and learn how we can support you implement holistic solutions helping your employees regain their balance and become productive again.