While workplace accidents have dropped considerably over the last several decades, one aspect of work still poses a threat to employees: stress.
Many studies have pointed to stress as being a silent killer in the workplace. In his book Dying for a Paycheck, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer says workplace-related stress may play a role in as many as 120,000 deaths per year in the United States.
Work can be a big contributor to that anxiety. Stressed workers are less productive and make more mistakes than employees who don't have to deal with an undue amount of mental strain at work.
You can help create a less stressful work environment by doing these four simple things:
1. Exercise your praise and recognition muscle.
A generous amount of praise at work makes employees feel appreciated. For me, this was a tough muscle to develop.
I thought if I praised employees too much, the value of that praise would naturally drop. But, then I realized the trick was not to praise the doer of a deed, but to praise the deed itself.
Rather than telling an employee they are a great person over and over, when you praise their positive deeds, you are telling them that when they do that specific thing, they are making themselves an asset to the company because of a definitive reason. They associate the praise with the good deed and it reinforces this behavior.
2. Decrease unknowns and create a transparent workplace.
As a leader, it's important to understand that your employees don't have the same level of knowledge about what is going on in the company as you and these unknowns can create a stressful working environment.
I noticed the stress level go up palpably at my business when we were forced to make a couple of changes to our team due to performance issues. Although I thought the termination process was going smoothly and I knew no other team members would be affected, the team did not know this and they were worried about their jobs.
Fortunately, we have a culture of open and honest communication in our office. We had no problem communicating to our employees what happened that led to the change in team members and what the process for replacing them was. When people realized their own jobs were not threatened, they became less stressed.
Do your employees know what is going on in your business? Don't take the "need to know" approach to business. Be open and transparent and your employees will feel less anxious.
3. Have a solid benefits package.
When designing a benefits package, you'll obviously need to think about physical health. Pfeffer writes that limited access to health benefits is a leading cause of stress for people at work and not having comprehensive enough insurance has even caused people to delay getting treatment they require.
Obviously as business owners, we need to be conscious of cost and saving money where we can. However, if you want to promote a stress free workplace, health benefits are not the place to try and save money.
If you want your workers to be able to fully concentrate on their jobs, they need the assurance that they'll be able to afford medical help if they need it. Knowing that will take a lot of stress out of people's minds.
You could also have something in your benefits package for mental health, which is often overlooked in employee health packages.
4. Design a wellness program that promotes good vibes.
Physical activity, healthy eating, bonding with co-workers and giving back to the community are all things that can help release the "feel good" chemicals in your brain like endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin.
Wellness programs that include team bonding activities and participating in community events can play a role in the mental, emotional and physical well-being of employees, reducing stress and making for more productive workplaces.
We often perform community building activities at work like creating food hampers for people in need and this acts as a team bonding exercise, meaning we get double the benefits from it because employees get to spend time together doing something meaningful beyond work.
If you want to go the extra step, you can invest in some stress management hormone test kits to monitor employee stress levels. If their stress levels are high, you can work with them to try and lower them.
By creating a less stressful work environment where your employees' health and wellness is a top priority, you can cut down on uncertainty and have a happier and more productive business.