Being human is awesome. We’re technologically advanced (invented Netflix), at the top of the food chain (hello, ice cream), and have built dynamic societies (mega malls). But it also means we deal with a few inherent downsides. Notably, stress.
Whether you’re a parent, plumber, or astronaut, stress is an unavoidable part of life. Although we don’t typically use our animal instincts for physical survival anymore, the fight or flight response is ever present. Modern stressors have taken on a new and widespread fangless form. Everyday “dangers” now include navigating complex social dynamics and inequalities, maintaining physical and mental well-being, career progression, relationships, political uncertainty & presidential tweets, financial instability, 24/7 connectivity, and work-life balance, just to name a few. Stress has seeped into so many aspects of our lives that the World Health Organization calls it the great “health epidemic of the 21st century”.
But one culprit exceeds the rest. If you’re like most American adults, work is far and away the leading cause of stress in your life. Unlike the traditional 9–5 desk job of generations past, we are now expected to be connected 24/7, work longer hours without extra compensation, make tight deadlines with fewer resources, compete for promotions, and fear layoffs and reorganization — all while finding passion and meaning in what we do. Sound familiar?
Stress derived from work is obviously not a new phenomenon, but over the past 20 years there has been a massive increase across the U.S. and modern workplace statistics reveal that:
- 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress.
- 42% say their co-workers need help with stress management.
- Work-related stress costs U.S. businesses $300 billion a year due to presenteeism, absenteeism, turnover, and healthcare costs.
Since most people work, and work is our greatest stressor, the workplace environment presents a prime opportunity to learn how to effectively manage and cope with our stress. Yet only 1 out of every 6 working adults consider their organization’s stress management programs adequate. Accepting stress as “just another part of the job” is clearly costing us a lot across the board. So why aren’t we doing a better job of managing stress in the workplace?
- Misconceptions about Stress — Stress is not something that you can simply get rid of. It’s an inherent property of human nature but it can be managed like other emotional responses. While short-term stress can be beneficial for your health, prolonged or chronic stress, in the form of multitasking, information overload, decision making, and social strife, has adverse effects — both mentally and physically. Over time, stress is scientifically shown to lower immune health, release harmful chemical reactions that weaken physiological health, and is directly linked to diabetes, obesity, and poor cognitive performance.
- Mental Health Stigma — It’s fair to say that most people do not fully understand the legitimate emotional, mental, and even physical impacts that stress can have. People with stress-related mental health issues face widespread discrimination in social environments, as well as ‘self-stigma’, especially in the workplace. Showing signs of anxiety, depression, and extreme stress is discouraged at work because it often leads to even more stressful situations, such as feeling disconnected from the team, performance review, and receiving negative attention; potentially hurting your career or even resulting in losing your job.
- Cost and Measurement — Stress reduction is relatively hard to measure, so it’s equally hard to justify spending money on it. Many organizations and individuals prefer to invest in wellness programs that quantify physical health, or financial stability, which can be clearly charted since measuring steps taken or money saved is easier than quantifying a 5% reduction in chronic stress levels.
- Business Sense — Many stress management solutions are viewed as counterintuitive to traditional business ideologies — suggesting that employees work less, disconnect from email and company communication channels, receive higher salaries, and take more time off can be hard for businesses to digest and reconcile without guaranteed returns.
- Low Priority — Oftentimes, corporate wellness programs place a large emphasis on physical health and developing social culture, while overlooking mental well-being. Organizations prefer to implement programs that look good on paper, such as a health challenge that can be easily measured with wearable devices, or a corporate event to bolster social connection that can be documented. Understanding the positive link between effectively managing stress and other health categories, such as physical health and social connection, will help to prioritize holistic stress management programs for individuals and organizations alike.
- Lack of Support — Practices such as mindfulness and meditation to manage stress are often viewed with skepticism and can seem daunting to start and maintain without guidance and social support. Understanding how effective and simple it is to promote and adopt stress management habits is a key challenge of both employers and employees. Recognizing a colleague’s efforts to manage their stress is a great way to validate what they are doing and learn about new techniques and resources.
- Data Privacy — Understanding how stress impacts individuals and organizations requires measurement and employee data. But collecting information on people’s mental states and stress levels is invasive and can be used against employees if it’s mismanaged. Making sure that personal health information (PHI) collected remains anonymous, doesn’t negatively influence employer-employee decisions, and is only being used to support stress management, are key challenges of companies that create their own stress care programs.
Understanding what causes stress and how to best manage it is a required skillset of top performers and organizations. In order to accomplish this, we need more robust individual and company-based stress management programs and environments. As employees, we should regularly self evaluate our stress levels and understand what coping methods work best for certain scenarios. As employers, we need to open the doors for unbiased conversation about stress and mental health, provide resources and support, and encourage teams to develop skills to handle stressful situations, both professionally and personally.
A good first step is seeing how your company currently stacks up when it comes to mental wellness. Check out your company’s Psocratic Wellness Score here.
Psocratic is a proactive behavioral health platform on a mission to advance workplace culture and wellness. Schedule a demo or say hello: firstname.lastname@example.org 🙌