Stress can wreak havoc on a workplace.

From tight deadlines to budget crunches, personal problems to health issues, stress of all kinds can decrease productivity and affect employee morale. And certain seasons—especially the end of the year, with the pressure of the holidays—can bring extra stress. What can an empathetic employer do to help?

A lot, says Lynn Hackstaff, a wellness expert, licensed clinical social worker, and health care administration faculty member at Capella University. Smart employers recognize that they can help employees navigate and survive stressful times—resulting in a win-win for everyone. The solutions are often easy and low-cost, but the benefits are practically priceless. Everyone is happier. And happier employees are generally more productive.

“When people are under stress, they often don’t take care of themselves. They don’t get enough sleep. They forget to eat—or they eat badly,” Hackstaff says. “All of that takes a toll.”

How to Manage Stress

To get out ahead of employee stress, Hackstaff suggests the following:

1. Look for signs of stress.

When employees are stressed, there are lots of little and big clues. Their performance becomes inconsistent. Their moods change. They may get headaches or call in sick more often. “Stress expresses itself in lots of ways,” Hackstaff says. “Employers need to pay attention to the changes in employee routines.” It also helps immensely just to be direct, but also show natural concern. Don’t forget to ask, “How’s it going?”

2. Acknowledge the problem.

When employers talk about stress and its impact, employees are more willing to disclose how it affects them. And discussing stress isn’t just about venting, Hackstaff says. Employees like to feel heard, and employers who listen first are more likely to be heeded when they steer the conversation toward potential solutions. “You have to start by recognizing and acknowledging the problem,” Hackstaff says.

3. Shape solutions.

There are lots of simple ways to help employees manage pressures at work and home. Physical activity, eating well, social interaction, and sleep are all important to keeping stress at bay, Hackstaff says. Employers can encourage workers to mind their stress levels by providing healthy food around the office, reminding them to take breaks, and encouraging them to leave their desk at lunchtime, if feasible. Consider having a contest around healthy habits or bringing in a speaker who can talk about mindfulness, breathing techniques for relaxation, healthy eating, or exercise. Retaining an expert to offer free 10-minute neck massages to employees can also be a nice idea, Hackstaff says.

In the end, employers who watch for stress triggers stand to benefit from addressing the problem head on, Hackstaff says. “Employees like to know that their employers support them and want them to live balanced lives,” she says. “Show them that you care, and they’re likely to be more loyal, productive, and content at work.”

Find out how Capella partners with employers to help develop today’s workforce.

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