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The Connection Between Employee Wellness and Stress Management

14 min read
Last Updated on 13 June, 2024

Is Workplace Stress Draining Your Team? According to The American Institute of Stress, roughly one million Americans are absent from work each day due to stress-related issues. While a certain level of stress can be motivating, chronic and unmanaged stress can have detrimental effects on employee well-being and overall organizational success.

In the workplace, stress can arise from various sources, such as tight deadlines, heavy workloads, interpersonal conflicts, and more. It could be tackled by encouraging a culture of well-being.

But do you know that employee wellness and stress management can be mutually reinforcing?

You equip your team with the resources to effectively manage stress and it can create a healthy and productive work environment for everyone. It's a win-win situation: when employees are happier and healthier, the organization becomes more efficient and successful.

Let’s read about it in depth.

What is Employee Wellness and Why Does it Matter?

Happy employees reaping the benefits of working in a company that prioritizes employee wellness

Employee wellness is a strategic investment designed to foster a safe and healthy work environment that supports the optimal performance of employees. This concept of employee wellness translates to a focus on several key dimensions:

  • Physical Wellness: Encouraging healthy habits like exercise, healthy eating, and preventive healthcare.
  • Mental and Emotional Wellness: Promoting mental clarity, reducing stress, and fostering emotional resilience.
  • Social Wellness: Nurturing strong and supportive relationships with colleagues, friends, family, etc.
  • Financial Wellness: Empowering employees to make informed financial decisions and making them feel secure about their financial future.

The goal is to engage employees in committing to their health and wellness, enhancing their ability to contribute effectively to organizational objectives. This holistic focus addresses the immediate health needs and integrates preventive measures, thus promoting a culture of wellness that benefits both the individual and the organization in the long-term.

Employee wellness is a strategy to ensure that a safe and healthy work and social environment is created and maintained, together with individual wellness commitment that enables employees to perform optimally while meeting all health and safety legislative requirements and other relevant wellness good practices in support of the achievement of organizational objectives.
– SA Board for People Practices

Employee wellness matters immensely because it directly impacts employee productivity, engagement, and overall organizational success.

A comprehensive corporate wellness program can contribute to fostering a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce by addressing various dimensions of well-being. Here's how:

1. Reduced Workplace Stress and Burnout:

According to research, an alarming 83% of employees suffer from work-related stress, which can lead to burnout, absenteeism, and decreased productivity.

Well-designed wellness programs offer innovative solutions to help employees cope with stress, such as mindfulness workshops, quiet spaces for reflection, and stress management programs. By equipping employees with effective stress-coping mechanisms, wellness programs can mitigate the negative impacts of workplace stress.

2. Improved Mental and Emotional Well-being:

Employee wellness programs improves mental and emotional wellbeing

Mental and emotional wellness is crucial for overall employee well-being.

Wellness programs that incorporate mental health resources, counselling services, and emotional support can empower employees to manage stress, develop resilience, and maintain a positive mindset. This, in turn, can contribute to increased job satisfaction, better focus, and enhanced productivity.

3. Boosted Physical Health and Energy Levels:

Wellness programs that promote physical activity, healthy nutrition, and regular exercise can help employees maintain optimal energy levels, reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, and enhance overall physical health.

Initiatives like on-site fitness facilities, wellness challenges, and access to fitness classes can encourage employees to prioritize their physical well-being.

4. Enhanced Work-Life Balance:

Employee wellness programs enhances work life balance of employees

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is pivotal for managing stress and preventing burnout.

Wellness programs that offer flexible work arrangements, additional paid time off, and resources for managing personal and professional responsibilities can help employees strike a better balance, leading to greater job satisfaction and overall well-being.

5. Improved Financial Well-being:

Wellness programs that provide financial education, debt management resources, and retirement planning assistance can empower employees to take control of their finances, alleviating a major source of stress and promoting overall well-being.

6. Increased Employee Engagement and Retention:

A research conducted by Harvard Business Review shows that employees who feel cared for by their employer are more likely to demonstrate loyalty and remain with the organization.

By implementing comprehensive wellness programs that address various aspects of well-being, employers can foster a supportive and inclusive work environment, enhancing employee engagement and reducing turnover.

7. Reduced Healthcare Costs:

Employee wellness programs help reduce healthcare costs of companies

Preventive care and healthy lifestyle habits promoted through wellness programs can lower the risk of chronic illnesses and associated healthcare expenses for both employees and employers.

In conclusion, employee wellness is an investment in your people, the heart and soul of your organization. By prioritizing their well-being through comprehensive programs, you can cultivate a thriving workforce that drives success and fuels the future of your company.

What are the Causes of Stress for Employees?

An employee undergoing stress at work due to unmanaged workload

Understanding the root causes of stress is crucial for developing effective strategies to mitigate its impact and foster a healthier work environment.

Below are some of the most common sources of employee stress:

  • Workload
  • Lack of control
  • Lack of support
  • Job insecurity
  • Low income
  • Conflict
  • Poor physical work conditions
  • Unclear expectations
  • Work-life imbalance
  • Organizational changes
  • Micromanagement

Recognizing these stressors is just the first step.

By addressing these root causes through open communication, flexible work arrangements, and supportive management practices, organizations can create a work environment that empowers employees and promotes well-being. It can ultimately lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

How Does Stress Impact Employee Well-being?

Our body's response to stress is a marvel of evolution. Faced with a deadline or a demanding client, it triggers the "fight-or-flight" response, a surge of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline designed for short-term bursts of energy.

However, chronic stress transforms this helpful mechanism into a relentless foe. Here's a breakdown of some key concerns:

1. Weakened Immune System:

Workplace stress causes weakened immune system

Studies have shown that chronic stress suppresses the immune system's effectiveness. It can make employees more susceptible to illnesses, ranging from common colds to more serious infections like the flu or pneumonia.

Moreover, it can translate to increased sick leave, reduced productivity, and a domino effect on colleagues who may have to pick up the slack.

2. Cardiovascular Issues:

Elevated cortisol levels due to chronic stress can damage arteries and increase inflammation. This raises the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attacks, and strokes.

A 2015 research published in the National Library of Medicine found a significant association between chronic workplace/work-related stress and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

3. Digestive Problems:

Stress disrupts the digestive system, leading to issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis, and acid reflux. It can cause the stomach to produce more acid, resulting in heartburn. It can also disrupt digestion, causing diarrhoea or constipation.

Another study published in The National Library of Medicine found a strong correlation between stress and functional gastrointestinal disorders.

For example, an employee facing a looming deadline might experience stomach aches or heartburn due to stress. It can create physical discomfort and reduce their focus and ability to perform their job effectively.

4. Weight Fluctuations:

Stress has a complex relationship with weight. For an employee undergoing much stress, it triggers overeating sugary and fatty "comfort foods”. This can lead to weight gain and associated health risks like diabetes and high cholesterol.

A study published by Harvard Medical School claimed that short-term- stress lowers appetite. However, if stress persists for longer durations, the body releases cortisol, increasing appetite and the drive to eat.

Ideally, cortisol levels should return to normal once the stressful episode passes. However, if stress persists, or if the body's stress response gets stuck in overdrive, cortisol levels may remain elevated. Ultimately, leading to binge-eating.

5. Anxiety & Depression:

Workplace stress causes anxiety and depression amongst employees

Chronic stress can elevate cortisol levels, a hormone linked to anxiety and depression. This constant state of stress can be a critical factor in developing or worsening these conditions.

Medical News Today insists that high stress levels can also lead to Cushing’s syndrome. It is a medical condition characterized by weight gain, high blood pressure and mood changes.

It can lead to feelings of overwhelmingness, reduced motivation, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, which can severely affect daily functioning both at work and outside of it.

6. Cognitive Impairment:

According to Healthline, stress can impair memory, focus, and problem-solving skills. Long-term stress can negatively impact the brain regions responsible for these cognitive functions. It can manifest as forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and impaired decision-making.

7. Social Withdrawal:

Stress can make an employee withdraw from social situations, as interacting with others can feel like an additional burden. This withdrawal can spiral into a cycle of isolation that worsens mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. They may be more prone to conflicts and less likely to collaborate effectively, all of which can lead to a less cohesive work environment.

Social isolation and loneliness can be just as detrimental to health as obesity, according to a 2010 meta-analysis. This research by Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad further emphasizes the severity, stating that prolonged isolation can even shorten a person's lifespan by up to 15 years.

Thus, we saw so many scientifically backed reasons as to how stress is lethal for employees. By taking scientific evidence into consideration, organizations can take proactive steps to create a work environment that fosters well-being.

How can Employee Wellness Programs help in Employee Stress Management?

Employees reaping the benefits out of employee wellness programs by managing stress effectively

Any company that can provide a sense of meaning, purpose and happiness will be able to attract great talent.
– – Fred Kofman, Executive Coach, Economist, Author

Employee wellness programs are a powerful tool for combating stress, but to truly maximize their impact, consider incorporating factors such as personalized health benefits and wellness incentives.

These benefits go beyond the program activities and empower employees to take charge of their well-being on their own terms.

Generally, traditional group health insurance is a common option, but it doesn't cater to individual needs. Here's where personalized benefits shine:

1. Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs):

These innovative plans allow employers to reimburse employees for qualified medical expenses, including gym memberships, therapy sessions, or even fitness trackers.

Imagine the relief of having your healthy choices financially supported! Won’t that be great?

Moreover, different HRAs cater to various needs:

Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA):

Ideal for small businesses, offering tax-advantaged reimbursement for qualified expenses.

Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangement (IHCRA):

Perfect for companies with a mix of full-time and part-time employees, allowing reimbursement for individual health insurance premiums alongside qualified expenses.

Group Coverage HRA (GCHRA) or Integrated HRA:

Integrate seamlessly with existing group health plans, offering employees additional spending power for out-of-pocket wellness costs.

2. Taxable Wellness Stipends:

Like HRAs, stipends provide a set amount for employees to spend on approved wellness expenses. The beauty of stipends lies in their flexibility. Unlike HRAs, they may allow for a wider range of expenses, like meditation apps or healthy groceries, further empowering employees to personalize their stress-relieving strategies.

Employer educating an employee on legal considerations for wellness incentives

While offering wellness incentives is a great way to promote employee health, companies need to ensure their programs are structured legally and ethically. Here's a breakdown of key compliance concerns:

HIPAA Privacy:

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) safeguards employee health information. Wellness programs that collect health data must obtain clear consent and maintain confidentiality.

ADA Accessibility:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that wellness programs are accessible to employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodation should be provided, and rewards should be inclusive and avoid discrimination.

GINA Protections:

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits wellness rewards from being tied to obtaining genetic information, like family medical history.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ensures employee participation in wellness programs remains voluntary. Rewards shouldn't be coercive or penalize those who choose not to participate.

Thus, we can see how personalized benefits like HRAs and stipends are game-changers! They put the power in the employee's hands.

Always remember, stress doesn't exist in a vacuum. Financial worries, poor sleep, or unhealthy eating habits can all contribute. By offering a variety of benefits alongside the wellness program, companies can address these diverse stressors.

Personalized health and wellness stipends are more than just perks; they're an investment in a healthier, happier workforce. By aiding employees to manage their stress and well-being, companies can reap the rewards of a more productive, engaged, and loyal team.

So, the next time you think about employee wellness, remember – it's not just about the program itself, but the comprehensive benefits package that surrounds it.

Additional Tips to Reduce Stress in the Workplace

An employee stretches at her desk to reduce workplace stress

With an overwhelming 43% of employees globally reporting high daily stress, burnout has become a major concern. But simply having access to wellness programs isn't enough. The key lies in actively replenishing your physical and mental resources.

This is where a concept called recovery comes in. It is the process of restoring your mental and physical state back to normal after a stressful period. It's a skill that needs to be practiced regularly by individuals. Think of it like a muscle - the more you use it, the more time it needs to repair.

Below are some popular actionable tips for both individuals and organizations. Because let’s admit it: tackling this giant albatross called stress is a Herculean task, and it requires a solid combined effort.

Tips For Individuals:

1. Become a Time Management Master

Feeling overwhelmed by deadlines and overflowing to-do lists is a major stressor. Mastering time management techniques like prioritization, scheduling, and delegation can significantly reduce workload anxiety.

Utilize tools like calendars, planners, and productivity apps to stay organized and avoid feeling like you're constantly playing catch-up.

Suggestion: Notion App

2. Detach Psychologically from Work

Stress at work tends to linger even during break time. You might be having lunch while watching your favourite Friends episode, but your mind is still replaying a client meeting from earlier. To combat that, you need to ‘mentally disconnect’ from work and give yourself a break.

Research says,“Detachment can lead to better recovery and even improve work-related outcomes like performance and engagement”. It even goes against the common notion that longer hour’s equal better performance.

Here are a few things that you can do:

  • Dedicate a specific (even short) amount of time each day to a non-work activity you enjoy. Even a few minutes can benefit your recovery.
  • Mindfulness practices can be helpful here - over time, you train your brain to focus on the present moment and reduce its tendency to dwell on work.
  • Identify your detachment triggers - if your phone/laptop tempts you to check work emails during breaks, turn it off or silence notifications temporarily.

3. Harness the Power of Micro-Breaks during the Workday

An employee harnesses the power of micro-breaks at work by taking a good restful nap

Forget the misconception that recovery only happens after work or during long vacations. Studies show that micro-breaks are surprisingly effective for recovering from daily stress and job demands.

These micro-breaks can involve:

These strategies can boost motivation, sharpen concentration, improve your mood, and sustain your energy levels throughout the day.

4. Mind Your Body and Mind

Prioritize activities that promote well-being. Take regular breaks for mindfulness exercises like meditation or deep breathing. Develop healthy sleep routines and incorporate physical activity into your day, even if it's just a short walk during lunch. A healthy body is better equipped to handle stress.

5. Consider the Preference for Recovery Activity

An employee watches a netflix series and has food to recover from stress

Do recovery your way!

Not having a choice in one’s recovery activities can be counter-productive.
People recover best when their breaks align with their preferences. If socializing energizes you, chat with colleagues. But if you need quiet time, politely excuse yourself and recharge however you like.

You can also talk to your manager about having more autonomy over your break schedule and activities. Then, use those free slots to do recovery activities that bring you inner peace.

The takeaway here is to be mindful about how you use your breaks.

6. Seek Support

Don't bottle up your stress. Utilize available resources like employee assistance programs (EAPs) that offer confidential counseling and support services. Talking to a trusted colleague or mentor can also be helpful.

Tips For Organizations:

1. Cultivate a Supportive Culture:

employers can help employees bust stress by cultivating a supportive culture

Foster a work environment where open communication is encouraged. Employees who feel comfortable expressing concerns and suggestions are less likely to experience stress. Regularly solicit feedback from your team and actively address their needs.

A good work environment is where employees feel safe to take risks and experiment without the fear of being punished for mistakes.

2. Promote Work-Life Balance:

Offer flexible work arrangements like remote work options or compressed workweeks. It allows employees to manage their personal responsibilities more effectively, reducing stress caused by scheduling conflicts.

Moreover, discourage the expectation of constant availability. Employees shouldn't feel pressured to check work emails or respond to messages outside of designated work hours. Encourage team members to respect one another's time off and avoid scheduling meetings or sending urgent requests during breaks or vacation periods. Everyone deserves their own recovery time.

3. Become a Wellness Champion:

Employers can help employees by offering them onsite fitness classes

Organizations can play a proactive role by promoting healthy habits and reducing stress among employees by:

  • Offering on-site fitness classes or healthy lunch options. Encourage participation in stress-reduction workshops or mindfulness training programs.
  • Partnering with mental health professionals to provide resources and support services to employees struggling with stress or anxiety.
  • Organizing educational seminars on topics like healthy eating, sleep hygiene, and the importance of taking breaks.
  • Arranging on-site health screenings or partnering with healthcare providers to offer discounted wellness plans.

4. Recognize and Reward:

Acknowledge your employees' hard work and achievements. Public recognition, bonuses, or additional paid time off can go a long way in boosting morale and reducing stress.

You can also implement a system of rewards and recognition that is tied to performance. This could include bonuses, additional paid time off, or opportunities for professional development.

You can use our in-house platforms Vantage Circle and Vantage Fit to reward and recognize your employees for their hardwork and wellness efforts respectively.

When employees see a clear connection between their hard work and recognition, they are more likely to feel motivated and less stressed.

Remember, a happy and healthy workforce is a successful workforce.

Start Your Journey Towards a Well Workplace

Thus, we saw how stress is a significant challenge in today's workplace, but it can be overcome through a comprehensive approach to employee wellness.

By prioritizing employee well-being and implementing effective stress management strategies, companies can cultivate a thriving work environment.

Remember, investing in employee wellness is an investment in the future of your company. A happy, healthy, and thriving workforce is the foundation for long-term success.

Ending the blog with a quote that says:

If you just pay (workers), you’re going to get the minimum discretionary effort; they’ll just work for the pay, but if you want them to pour their hearts and souls, you need to give them more.
– – Fred Kofman, Executive Coach, Economist, Author

This article is written by Bijaya Lakshmi Sarma, a content marketer and wellness expert at Vantage Fit. As an avid runner for over a decade and a keen reader of books on holistic wellness, Bijaya aims to guide people toward lifestyle changes that help them surpass their wellness vision. To get in touch, reach out to editor@vantagecircle.com

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