As your employees return to work after the holidays, they'll likely return to the same familiar deadlines and anxieties that stressed them out before the break. In addition to the negative health effects, stressed employees produce less, treat customers worse, and make more mistakes. Most experts advise the same familiar salves: ample sleep, regular exercise, a sensible diet, and a sense of purpose and social support.
Those are all certainly good suggestions, but there are things employers can do to make the workplace less stressful to begin with, says Jan Bruce, the founder of MeQuilibirum, Boston-based start-up which helps people identify and manage sources of stress using online tools and apps.
Since she became an entrepreneur, Bruce realized that start-up employees suffer some of the worst kinds of stress. “If you have a company in a constant state of high growth, that kind of hyper-nervous state can make people unproductive," she says. "Constant pressure makes people inured to it, and they’re unable to focus.”
New habits can break the cycle. Instead of preaching the same gospel, Bruce advises employers to look for ways to make stress reduction routine. Staff retreats and happy hours are well and good, but they can’t compare to steps that make the actual work less stressful. Here are three examples she recommends.
Make Meetings Move—Bruce holds regular “walking” meetings with certain staff. As they enjoy the change of scenery, the fresh air, and the light exercise, they discuss challenges back at work with a new perspective. “We unwind and we get something done—connect, move, and recharge,” Bruce says.
Help Employees Help Each Other—Mentoring sessions are proven stress relievers. Not only do they foster collaboration and bring old and young staff closer, they just get people out of their own heads. One-on-one lunches can make collaboration more routine. Regular presentations where people can showcase their expertise fosters mutual professional respect. And of course, everyone learns from each other. When high-pressure situations arise down the road, those social connections pay off.
Make Daily Successes Part of a Pattern—After a big sale or exciting accomplishment, it’s easy to quickly move on to the next thing. Instead, make sure to recognize that achievement, and find ways to show how each member of the staff helped the company make a difference and achieve the greater goal. “Teach people to say, ‘What difference do I make every day?’” she says. “People will walk through fire because they believe in what they are doing.”