How to Manage Employee Stress and Build a More Resilient Workforce

Contributors Dr. Susan David of Harvard medical school and the experts on the virgin pulse science advisory board.

The mental wellbeing of individuals within your organisation touches every aspect of your business. From the visible – revenue, absenteeism, and turnover – to the invisible – disengagement, low job satisfaction, and depressive disorders.

Mental wellbeing is compromised when an individual is not able to proactively cope with the level of stress they are being “served,” whether within or outside the workplace. Compromised mental health and stress affect your organisation’s ability to meet business goals, attract (and retain) top talent, and compete in a complex and ever-changing business world.

The impact of stress on employees
Business has never been more challenging. Employees are key to business success and when they are impacted by ever-increasing demands, business results may suffer. Businesses perform better when employees are at their best at work and at home. New job responsibilities, higher demands, increased competition, or simply the pressure of trying to manage professional and personal demands, adds up to workplace stress. The fact that workplace stress is increasing is not news. What is gaining increased attention, though, is stress’ economic impact on global business. Happier, healthier, less stressed-out employees mean direct benefits to your business.

If you invest in your employee’s wellbeing, productivity will follow. Absenteeism may seem like an obvious problem, but presenteeism is a larger and a more subtle one. Presenteeism is when your employees physically are present at work but aren’t working at full productivity. Stress is the major cause of presenteeism and the cause of workplace stress is complex and demands a multi-pronged approach to create a solution. It’s essential that your employees feel engaged, motivated and connected. That’s why an impactful solution must start by addressing your workers’ individual needs. The numbers indicate that the key to happy employees is providing them with the right tools for building and maintaining healthy habits. The goal is not to eliminate workplace stress, but to help each of your employees better manage the impact of stress on their overall wellbeing.

How leading employers’ approach to mental wellbeing has changed
Widely recognised researchers and academics, particularly Dr. Susan David of Harvard Medical School and the experts on the Virgin Pulse Science Advisory Board, are leading the charge in the science of helping individuals to overcome difficult situations and thrive through adversity. What they all suggest is a new paradigm of coping skills, leading to advanced mental health and transformational wellbeing strategies. In summation, unhealthy thought patterns, coupled with unhealthy habits, leads to suboptimal outcomes. These patterns permeate the life of an individual, and affect career, relationship, and physical wellbeing. To that end, healthy habits and thoughts do the opposite. Employers have the opportunity to “nudge” individuals within their organisations by providing them with the opportunity and support to make healthy habits and reframe their thought patterns. 

Changing how your people perceive their emotions: emotional agility
In order to cope with the complex and changing working environment that is modern business, individuals must be adept at redefining the role that their emotions play in their overall thoughts and happiness. By perceiving emotions as indicators, individuals can pause, evaluate why they feel the way they do, and choose the behaviour pattern that best serves their values and who they want to be in difficult situations. This strategy is what Dr. Susan David calls emotional agility. 

How coping with stress affects intrinsic motivation
By creating a work culture that promotes positive emotional feedback and support (as well as the opportunity to make choices that encourage wellbeing), organisations will find that they also benefit from intrinsic motivation, because positive emotional feedback reinforces each health step their workforce takes. By developing a wellbeing program that provides agency, choice and support from their employer, employees experience improved morale, reduced burnout, a reduction in daily stress and reduced biases. 

How behaviour change helps manage stress and promotes mental wellbeing
According to Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford University, long-term behaviour change is created when employers design an environment where new or healthful behaviour is easy to choose. For example, if you want employees to exercise more frequently, you need to make exercise easy to do. Many leading organisations are already doing this with on-site fitness centres and workout classes throughout the workweek. According to Fogg, individuals don’t need to feel successful all the time or every day, but they do need to feel they are headed in the right direction. The biggest way to foil a wellbeing program within any organisation is to “force” employees to choose between behaviours they don’t want to develop, or not giving them any choice at all. People need to have the flexibility to choose behaviours they actually want to have. Willpower alone will not create new habits.

Why emotional agility is the antidote for life’s challenges
According to Dr. Susan David, emotional agility is “the process that enables us to navigate life’s twists and turns with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness and an open mind.” Individuals that struggle to be emotionally agile have difficulty in light of new information and new ways of doing things. Their thoughts tend to be rigid and repetitive. She recommends implementing a strategy where curiosity and patience work together, encouraging employees to ask themselves “how can I approach this situation in a way that serves my values?” and “what do I potentially miss out on by thinking there’s only one right way to do this task?” David says that when we’re able to pause when we’ve had an emotion, label the emotion for what it is and examine if it is serving us and who we want to be in the future, we become emotionally agile. 

For more information on taking your employees from hectic to happy, download our e-book here. 

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