Stress has a very bad reputation. We blame stress – and in particular work-related stress – for heart disease, obesity, a number of mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and we call stress a “killer.”
The Australian Psychological Society found in it’s Stress & Well-being Survey 2015 that 35% of Australians consider themselves severely stressed and 26% even report moderate to extremely severe symptoms of depression. Those numbers are on the rise. In a lot of those cases stress was related to work but also to unemployment. These findings are mirrored in the 2017 UN World Happiness Report. This suggests that work makes us sick but not working makes us equally sick. So what to do as an employer? Is it really wise to avoid stress at all costs?
It is important to know that stress itself can actually be our friend. Good stress is challenging us to do better, it puts our body in a state of alertness and helps us achieve goals. If we manage to see stress as our friend we might be able to turn things around. Long-term studies by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor for psychology at the University of Chicago, found that we are happiest and achieve the most when we are in a state of flow. Everyone has experienced some kind of state of flow in their lives at least once. It happens when you forget time and place, and just do something you are good at and enjoy. It could be dancing, coding, writing an essay, solving a difficult problem, teaching, gardening – it could be anything. We need a healthy level of stress in our lives to help us create things, think thoughts; human beings are designed to be productive. Often we lose focus though, do too much of one thing, forget that in order to be productive we also need to rest, eat and sleep well, exercise and so on. But first of all we need to change our mindset about stress. It’s not our enemy, it can be our friend – in the right doses.
As an employer, if you are looking to relieve the burden of work related stress for your employees, try these three things:
- Find the right environment for them to work in – Somewhere where they can use their skills, are supported to achieve their goals and can identify with the values of the business
- Schedule in rest time and make it a non-negotiable – People are not designed to be productive 24/7. Give them a good balance to recharge their batteries. Believe it or not, sometimes doing less hours can help them achieve better results
- Change your mindset about stress – In Kelly McGonigal’s Ted Talk she explains why it’s so important to make stress your friend. The mind can do incredible things and by shifting thoughts to embrace stress it can boost work performance without the negative effects on health.