How to help employees manage workplace stress

Since April is Stress Awareness Month, I think it’s worth looking at how managers can help their employees manage workplace stress.

Prior to the pandemic, a Metlife survey found that 60% of employees believed supporting mental well-being should NOT be an employer’s responsibility. However, their most recent survey found that now 62% DO believe it should be an employer’s responsibility. And I agree!

Think about it: ┬áLet’s say you work 40 hours per week. Multiply that by 50 (assuming 2 weeks vacation), that’s 2000 hours per year which is about 23% of your year. But, realistically, many of us, perhaps most of us, are working more in the range of 50-60 hours per week (or we don’t have or use our PTO). So that is about 1/3 of your year spent at work! That translates to tremendous potential for work to impact your mental well-being.

Furthermore, we know that employee burnout is not only a massive problem but also that it’s a systemic issue, not an individual employee issue. This further underscores the need for employer support for mental well-being.

How to Manage Workplace Stress

I think of stress management as a 2-part process:

  1. Minimizing the stressors within your control
  2. Mitigating the effects of the stressors outside of your control

As you can see, part 1 is proactive and part 2 is reactive. Very often we only think about the reactive part because the proactive part has a lot to do with saying “no” and having boundaries, which can be uncomfortable.

It can be extremely challenging for employees in particular to take action on part 1. But it’s essential because reactive stress management can only get you so far. Once the waters get too deep, you can’t get your head above them. And we know that unrelenting and unmitigated stress is a major contributor to┬áburnout.

Employees must be able to advocate for themselves when it comes to their workload and managers must make that doable. This comes from open communication, workplace culture, modeling balancing behaviors, among other strategies.

So, as part of Stress Awareness Month, I encourage all managers reading this to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your employees feel empowered and comfortable to turn down tasks they don’t have to take on immediately?
  • Do they feel like they are able to approach you and ask for help prioritizing their workload?
  • Are they able to ask for support with their workload without fear of adverse consequences?

If you answered no to any of those, how can you make the workplace more amenable to help employees proactively manage workplace stress?