How To Create A Less-Stressful Workplace

It’s a natural response that’s become a formidable enemy of healthy workplaces – stress. While a mild degree of stress can compel us to do great things (like beating your personal best running time or meeting a tight deadline), too much can have serious health consequences.

Unchecked, stress can lead to psychological disorders like depression, but it can also trigger heart attacks on people who have no known cardiovascular problems. In fact, the list of illnesses in which stress may play a role is alarmingly long: stroke, immune disorders, cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, and diabetes, to name just a few.

Demands in the workplace contribute much to chronic stress. Recently, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that more and more Australians work in excess of 50 hours per week, which now places us 27th out of 35 compared to other OECD countries.

Here are three simple guidelines to kick-start a less-stressful workplace:  
  • Give them a break: Have you tried turning it off and on again? It turns out this works for both digital and actual brains. Studies show taking breaks can restore motivation and increase both creativity and productivity in employees. Encourage your employees to pause from work, whether that's by providing comfortable lounging spaces, inviting break rooms or introducing quiet areas. Also, make it easy for employees to switch off when they must. Why not offer additional leave such as stress leave or a wellbeing day? Companies, like the socially responsible outdoor clothing chain, Patagonia, see great value in switching-off. They keep their Californian headquarters shut from 8 p.m. during the week and never open on weekends to allow employees to recharge and spend time away from the office. Did this affect company performance? Not at all, Patagonia reported sales of $800 million in 2016.
 
  • Encourage exercise: Philosopher Hippocrates once said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” There’s no arguing that physical movement has a positive effect on our mental health. So, encourage exercise within your company. Start sporting teams, implement walking meetings or offer exercise classes on-site. Promoting good exercise habits in the workplace helps your people ‘sweat-out’ stress.
 
  • Create a culture of communication: A sense of belonging and self-worth, like much like stress, is a primal feeling. Poor communication causes confusion, uncertainty and even conflict. It prevents workers from feeling a sense of community which leads to stress.

Support good communications by providing regular company updates, promoting peer-to-peer communication channels, championing collaboration and putting programs in place for counselling and mental health assistance.

Consider the positive impact that open face-to-face communication had on animation giant Pixar’s culture. An open exchange of ideas was held regularly in attractive common areas which created a real community-feel. Their creative workers could thus relax knowing the typical chain of command didn’t apply, and everyone was invested in helping each other out.

Of course, it’s impossible to eliminate stress completely. After all, you still want your teams to feel the adrenaline rush that comes with hard-earned achievement. But, by giving your teams enough breaks, encouraging physical movement and championing open communications, rest assured they’ll only feel the good kind of stress!