Stress at work is a major issue for many Americans. According to a study from the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, 40 percent of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful, while 25 percent view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. Great business leaders recognize that stress can have a range of negative impacts on their individual employees. But some fail to realize that if left unchecked, stress can have a trickle-down effect that can taint the entire workplace.

 

On the personal front, job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or family problems. But a stressful, conflict-rich work environment is also one of the major barriers to staff retention and long-term growth. Not only does it lead to lack of job satisfaction, it's proven to hinder productivity, create interpersonal discord and cultivate poor job performance: One study on workplace conflict found U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.

 

Today, more corporate leaders are taking note, and putting procedures and benefits in place to help their employees--and their business--better manage the negative impacts stress. I asked Deborah Rozman, CEO of HeartMath, to share 3 ways to help reduce stress at your workplace, and this is what she shared:

Consider deploying one or all of these three strategies to help foster better stress management in your workplace.

1. Provide healthy snacks and opportunities to move. Long-term stress can increase appetite and sow the urge to binge on high-sugar or high-fat comfort and convenience foods. This kind of emotional eating is often the body's way of coping with tension. Fortunately, Mother Nature produces excellent stress fighters! Foods naturally rich in vitamins and minerals can help fight increased levels of cortisol--a stress hormone. Stock your staff kitchen with stress-fighting, desk-friendly foods like cashews, oatmeal, oranges and vitamin C-packed berries. Not only will it keep your staff from getting "hangry," it's an actionable way to show your employees how much you value them--and their health. In addition, consider investing in your employees' health through a workplace wellness program. It's not just a nice idea--it's a tactic proven to deliver a measurable return on investment for businesses. In just one example, Johnson & Johnson estimates that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent. Offer incentivized fitness competitions to get your staff moving--and to incite some healthy competition, too. You don't have to focus on weight loss: Challenge staff to track their steps daily steps for a set period of time and celebrate the employee who walks the most. Or, if a competition isn't your speed, offer a discounted or free gym membership to your staff on a "use it or lose it" basis. Many successful models require employees to check in to their gym twice a week or more to retain access to the facilities. This not only encourages employees to burn off tension through exercise--it allows employers to focus their wellness spend on the employees who are most engaged.

2. Outsource stress management services. As a business owner, you probably outsource a number of critical functions to keep your company running smoothly. Stress management should be no different. There are a number of different professional support services who can make a positive impact on workplace stress. Consider hiring a massage therapist once a month to provide your staff with complimentary on-site head, neck and hand massages. According to a report by Integra Survey, 62 percent of employees routinely end the day with work-related neck pain--44 percent reported stressed-out eyes, 38 percent complained of hurting hands and 34 percent reported difficulty in sleeping because they were too stressed-out. Massage not only focuses on the physical aspects of stress, touch is a great natural stress reliever. Another option is to bring in a certified instructor to offer lunchtime yoga or tai chi classes. A mid-day session will help elevate "feel-good" endorphins, and center your staff for a productive afternoon and a less-stressed evening. Plus, the camaraderie of working out together is great for team building and office morale.

3. Provide tools to help your employees improve their body and mind. For employers who are serious about reducing stress, there are high-tech tools to help. For example, the Inner Balance trainer provides a 3-step technique, and provides real-time feedback to help employees synchronize their breath and heart rhythms, and retrain their mind-body response to stress. The tool focuses on helping employees track, and optimize, their heart rate variance (HRV)--the variation of the time between individual heartbeats. An optimal amount of HRV reflects resilience, fitness, vitality and the ability to manage stress and maintain composure. On the other hand, too little variability indicates chronic stress, nervous system depletion, fatigue, and a higher risk of future health problems. For a brick-and-mortar stress reduction solution, consider dedicating space in your office for a rest and relaxation room. Reallocating a small conference room, office or storage area, and outfitting it with an aromatherapy diffuser, a white noise machine or fountain, low lighting and soft seating and blankets creates a "time-out" space for employees to grab a power nap, or simply decompress for a few minutes. (New moms can also use this space as a quiet and private place to pump.) These 3 ways will help you reduce stress at your office and build a healthier, happier and more productive workplace. Now that's something none of us would stress out about!

Now it's your turn? How have you been able to reduce stress at the office? Please let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below.