For generations, stress and work have been synonymous for Americans. Deadlines, projects and presentations plague office culture and serve as a breeding ground for all sorts of stressors.
Forty percent of workers report having a job that is "very or extremely stressful," according to numbers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control. The same report showed that 26 percent of workers are "often or very often burned out or stressed" by their work, and 29 percent feel "quite a bit or extremely stressed at work." And those numbers only cover the most stressed-out among us.
There are a number of things your employees can do for themselves to reduce their stress levels and be happier at work—such as get organized, sleep more, and think positively—but managers can (and should) step in, too. Your workers are an investment, and you should treat them that way. If they're too burnt out to deliver, your company suffers and you take the heat. Plus, a stressed-out office is the worst kind.
So what can you do to put your employees at ease and help keep them invigorated and engaged at work?
Staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day isn't good for anybody. Make sure your employees know that it's OK to take a break if necessary, even when they're on a deadline. Nothing clears a person's head quite like a quick walk around the block or 10 minutes of relaxation. Taking a break allows built-up stress to diffuse, psychotherapist Greg Dorter, who counsels people with stress and anxiety, told InsideToronto.com. Some employers believe so ardently that rest helps productivity that they encourage napping on the job (within reason, of course). Google even installed special "sleep pods" for its staff.
A smile on your face will show your employees that you're upbeat and approachable. Smiling itself is a proven stress-reducer, and merely putting one on your face at work (which requires keeping yourself de-stressed) can have an effect on your whole office. Smiling is infectious; studies have shown that when a person engages with another person who is smiling, his or her muscles mimic the smile. So this tactic really is two-fold: You can smile to put your employees at ease by showing you're in a decent mood, while simultaneously helping them rid themselves of stress.
Have a sense of your office environment and staff
Being a present manager is key. Without understanding the inevitable social and political factors at play in your office, and the people who come together to create your workplace, you can't fully understand the stress factor. Make a point to spend time among your employees, which could mean patrolling their work areas every so often or keeping your office door open. And don't forget that personalities are at play. Sometimes, toxic people can drag their colleagues down.
For example, Dorter says, "[That's] often something that comes up with my clients—how stressful their work is and how much they hate their jobs—and it's almost always not the work they do, but the people they have to be around." Be aware of problem people in your office, and mitigate their impact by encouraging more constructive interactions and addressing issues with the difficult coworkers, as needed.
Listen and meaningfully engage
"Meeting face-to-face really conveys the fact that you care about what the person has to say," wellness coach and About.com stress management expert Elizabeth Scott told Inc.com. "Another key to good communication is reflecting back to people what they have said so they see that you listened and that you understand." Even if you can't provide an immediate solution, making yourself (or in the case of a large company, a human resources expert) available to hear and address concerns is invaluable. If employees know they can turn to you, they're less likely to feel totally on their own during overwhelming times. And if they do feel under extreme pressure, they know you're there to help them release the stress. Once that happens, their productivity ticks up, in proportion to job satisfaction.
Beautify your office
Stacked boxes, piles of paper, oppressive fluorescent lighting and outdated equipment all make for subtle stressors. So does dim lighting and a dingy workspace. Invest in comfortable office furniture and bring in a few plants to spruce up the place; it cleans the air and helps the office feel more like home, says Scott. Keep clutter to a minimum and find ways to keep noise to a minimum (like putting wall coverings over bare ones), because a loud office can be hugely stressful in itself, she adds. Keep the common areas organized, make sure bathrooms are always clean, and even integrate a little aromatherapy if that's your thing (Scott recommends a peppermint scent as "a great natural way to wake people up.")
Image credit: redteam via flickr