How Successful Businesses Are Helping Employees Cope

Stress is a powerful ailment. It can be directly responsible for maladies such as weight gain, high blood pressure, digestive problems, cardiovascular issues, sleep deprivation, depression, repetitive strain injuries, and/or a weakened immune system, which can lead to a variety of illnesses, including cancer. The more stressed we are, the more vulnerable our bodies are to sickness.

For a business, this can spell disaster in terms of lost productivity from employees taking sick days. In fact, downtime from illnesses cost U.S. companies an estimated $300 billion each year. In addition, employers pay an estimated 50 percent more annually in healthcare costs. Which is why some companies are taking note and incorporating different initiatives to reduce stress in the workplace as much as possible.

As an example, leading mobile app developer Appster is rated as one of the top five app developers in the world. To minimize stress in their offices, they provide perks like free meals and rides to work so employees don’t have to fret about making lunch or transportation. The company’s California office has a pet husky named “Howl” who wanders throughout the building to visit employees, giving them a break from their work to pet him. Petting an animal can lower blood pressure and is known to help the body release a relaxation hormone while cutting down on levels of stress hormones. In addition, Appster has an online board where employees can post complaints and concerns anonymously to air their grievances. Those issues are then addressed in “Town Hall” meetings run by upper-level executives, including the CEO.

At managed healthcare consortium, Kaiser Permanente, employees have an option to download stretch breaks on their computers. Reminders pop up throughout the day in an effort to get employees to step away from their desks, go for a short walk, or do some simple stretching exercises to get the blood flowing and the mind clear.

Internet technology giant Google offers classes in meditation, in addition to picnics, parties and retreats. Employees also have access to massages, music lessons, gyms, volleyball courts, indoor rock-climbing walls, a bowling alley and an outdoor sports park at the Mountain View campus, and they can bring their pets to work. The company also serves three meals a day, all of which are free.

Obviously, not all businesses have the resources a company like Google has to be able to offer such great perks, but there are several things that almost any business can do to help reduce stress in the workplace, such as: Lead by Example. When managers make it a point to take breaks and invite their employees to do the same, it shows that the company cares about their team members’ mental wellbeing. Seeing a manager take a break to go for a walk, chat with an employee about non-work issues, etc., shows employees that it’s okay to do the same, thus removing the “guilt factor” from the equation.

Promote Wellness. Offering to pay all or a portion of a gym membership is one way to promote a healthy lifestyle for employees. Another way is to sponsor group healthy eating challenges or competitions that promote walking or running, or extra curricular team activities like bowling, softball or other sports. These competitions not only help employees learn the value of a healthier lifestyle but they also create an atmosphere of team building.

Create a Social Environment. Putting a ping pong table or pool table, or a game console hooked to a television in the office provides a way for employees to step away from work for a little fun time. Taking employees out to lunch every once in awhile shows employees you appreciate them and gives everyone a way to interact socially. Another idea is to schedule regular visits from motivational speakers to take time away from work and build enthusiasm.

Designate a Quiet Area. Giving employees a quiet place to go to meditate or just “unplug” is a great way to relieve tension. Having a place to re-group or collect their thoughts for a few minutes gives employees a chance to get rid of negative thoughts or emotions and come back refreshed and ready for the next challenge.

Communicate. When you are open and honest about every aspect of your business and regularly communicate with employees, it provides them with a sense of trust and makes them feel more like valued team members, rather than just employees taking orders.

Provide Flexibility. Allowing flextime so employees can take care of personal matters during regular business hours is extremely beneficial. Stringent rules on work hours are hugely stressful for people with children, especially when the child is sick or injured and needs to go to the doctor. Allowing employees to regularly work from home is also beneficial. It shows that you trust them and value their needs.

While some of these suggestions do come with a bit of a price tag, the payoff in the long run is that you have happier, healthier employees who are dedicated to making your business a success. It’s hard to put a price on that.

By Barrett Baker