The global pandemic has highlighted the importance of addressing workplace stress. By applying the lessons learned from remote work implementation, businesses can unlock solutions to support employee well-being and combat stress, says Edward J. Beltran, CEO of Fierce Inc. / Pulse.
The effects of the global pandemic will be long-lasting, with workplace changes still being felt. During the pandemic, businesses worldwide embraced innovation and technological advances out of necessity. To keep functioning, remote and hybrid work policies were put in place as quickly as necessary so hardware could be shipped to employees. That same sense of urgency must be applied to addressing another worldwide health issue affecting employees worldwide: stress.
The pandemic changed not just how we work but how we understand work. The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting saw millions worldwide prioritize their mental well-being. The adoption of remote and hybrid work seemingly overnight demonstrated what can be done when there is enough support behind it â€“ and when businesses understand it is not only in employees’ best interest but the company’s as well. It is no exaggeration to say the pandemic may have changed the traditional â€˜office work’ environment forever.
Mental Health Awareness Month is a good time to look back on the changes of the past few years. Suppose we apply the same lessons to workplace stress that the pandemic forced us to apply to workplace flexibility. In that case, technological advances can change how we handle employee well-being. While much progress has been made in giving employees more autonomy in the workplace, progress addressing workplace stress has not kept pace. Workplace stress, if not addressed, will continue to build upon itself. Stress makes us less productive, which causes us to worry that our decreased productivity will put our jobs at risk. This â€˜productivity paranoia’ stems from an inability, by employees and employers alike, to understand and address workplace stress, creating a downward spiral. Stress can be granulated and understood in an actionable way.
Wherever You Go, There You Areâ€¦With Your Stress
As long as we have had work, we have had workplace stress. As long as we have had stress, those stressors have not been the same. Rainfall welcomed by farmers of old would stress traders worried flooding may ruin the roads. While we have come a long way in technological advances, our understanding of stressors has yet to match that progress.
Workplace stress has only become more prevalent. â€˜Workplace creep,’ long a worry before the pandemic, has only grown. Technology that lets office workers continue working through the pandemic has long blurred the lines between home and office. Email and personal computers spawned smartphones and WiFi. Now we are, in effect, always on call. The pandemic meant you never left your home for work. That being the new norm, work never leaves your home. â€˜Workplace creep’ became workplace ubiquity.
Unsurprisingly, Gallup’s State of the Workforce ReportOpens a new window found record highs for workplace stress in 2021. Early estimates for last year have 2022 on pace to be a record-setting year as well. The more stress, the more burnout. Reduced productivity and increased turnover harm team cohesion, contributing to the self-sustaining stress cycle.Â
Record levels of stress overlapping with record drops in productivity show that, at the very least, something must be done to understand stress. Before the pandemic, managers and executives had come to this same conclusion. The pandemic shifted workers’ priorities, who placed a higher value on well-being, and employers followed suit.Â
Furthermore, these estimates do not consider the entire cost of decreased productivity. The American Institute of Stress estimates that when considering â€œabsenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, increased medical costs, and legal costs, the total economic impact of stress to US employers was estimated at $300 billionOpens a new window .â€ Through this $300 billion lens, we must urge business leaders to view the problem of employee mental health.
Making Stress Malleable
Stress solutions fail for two main, interconnected reasons. They need to grasp the totality of the problem for the employees and businesses alike. As a result, narrowly tailored solutions need to address the full scale of the problem at hand and only look to bring to bear some available tools. As the data shows, however, businesses must acknowledge the breadth of the issue. Accepting that, combined with the global success at tackling the issue posed by the global pandemic, businesses must address the second fatal flaw. All must be on the table.
Fortunately, such an approach can be a manageable refocusing of business assets. In fact, as with the global pandemic, the solution is already at hand for many of us. Literally. The wearable technology many of us rely on to track our steps can track our stress, and the smartphones we carry can help make sense of that data. We can track our biometrics and chart our stress by the hour using the tech we already have. My company created an app to do just that; the results were astounding.Â
When the Harvard Business ReviewOpens a new window surveyed workers about their stressors in the workplace, the top three were much easier than possible for a $300 billion problem â€“ difficult people, feeling overworked, and vulnerability to personal criticisms. As our research has shown, many of these stressors can be dramatically reduced through coaching about how to have difficult conversations. Furthermore, it helps raise awareness about our stress. What may be constructive criticism or healthy competition for one may stifle creativity and create a hostile work environment for another. The data we receive from charting out stress, which can give individuals a Stress Score to understand their stress, can be used to drive stress down through engagement and conversation to address the issue behind the stress event.
Understand the Problem, Understand the Solution
In the past, initiatives to tackle stress have been fighting in the dark. The biometric data allows employees to understand their legitimate stressors individually. You can identify where and who you were with when your stress spiked. Deeper awareness of stressors can then be coupled with strengthening the skills necessary to combat those stressors.
When it comes to stress, knowing is half the battle. The Stress Dashboard we can create directs users to an in-app AI BOT with step-by-step tried and true approaches for handling their stressors. Additionally, anonymized data enables management to see stress at a departmental level, company level, and across varying demographic breakdowns to understand how they may best mitigate stress.
Company-wide resilience can be built by allowing individual employees and their managers to deepen their understanding of stress and quickly move into action. That will have momentum, creating a sustainable resilience to help maintain employee well-being while improving performance. Understanding stressors from being overworked or underappreciated, combined with management and employees having the tools to combat those stressors as they arise, will be good for individual employees and the company.
Which technology have you used to understand and address workplace stress? Let us know on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window . We’d love to hear from you!
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