‘Tis the season to be stressed. Many Americans are never more busy than during the holiday season—so it’s a given that workers are stressed on the job as well. The good news is that employers can take a number of practical steps to reduce stress and make this time of the year more pleasant and more productive. These practices, used to improve employee wellbeing, can be carried over and used year-round.
Workplace wellbeing is not a totally new idea, of course. For many years, companies have worked to help employees quit smoking and become more active, and these “wellness” efforts have paid off in many ways. But HR experts have found that these programs are not enough. Employees often need additional support in other areas such as emotional and mental health, finances, and seeing to family needs. Over time, those studying the workplace began to talk use the term, “work/life balance.”
But that concept, too, has evolved. Too many saw the work/life balance equation as giving a negative connotation to “work” compared to the more positive connotation of “life.” The wellbeing model by Gallup recognizes that work itself is something that adds to people’s wellbeing. After all, work provides purpose and accomplishment, as well as healthy social connections. Like family time, it’s a part of life.
This has led to more accepted terms such as work/life integration or work/life blending. A recent CNN article discusses how the work/life balance term suggests both things are equal in terms of time and energy, and that simply isn’t the case. Employers have come to terms with employees integrating some life into the workday too.
Employee Wellbeing: More Than Wellness Promotion
There is no doubt that encouraging workers to be more active helps with both health care costs and lowering stress levels. But the trend toward wellness strategies, while a positive step, has often been too narrowly focused. If employees perceive that companies are only providing such benefits in order to hold down costs, they have less incentive to participate. A holistic approach to wellness will be more productive.
According to the Gallup organization, which has done extensive research and surveying on the issue, employee wellbeing consists of five elements:
- Career Wellbeing: how one occupies their time—or simply liking what they do every day.
- Social Wellbeing: having strong relationships and love in one’s life.
- Financial Wellbeing: effectively managing one’s economic life.
- Physical Wellbeing: having good health and enough energy to get things done each day.
- Community Wellbeing: the sense of engagement a person has with the area they live.
An article in the Business Journal says the five Gallup elements “…Differentiate a thriving life from one spent suffering. They represent five broad categories that are essential to most people,” the article notes. “When those factors are fully realized, people thrive—and so do businesses.”
The Gallup researchers found that the wellness elements are interconnected. When one area is not attended to, it can impact wellness in other areas. Therefore, when employers think about the wellbeing of their employees, they should consider a strategy that addresses all five elements.
According to Gallup, workers with the highest levels of wellbeing cost much less in lost productivity. And that “suffering” employees—who have the lowest wellbeing scores—on average cost companies $28,000 per-person, per-year, in lost productivity due to sick days. For employees with the highest levels of wellbeing—those with the highest scores in the “thriving” category—the cost of lost productivity is only $840 a year on average.
In a report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), researchers said workplace stress led not only to depression and anxiety, but also is linked to cardiovascular disease, musculo-skeletal issues, and obesity. According to research, workplace stress contributes to at least 120,000 deaths per year—more than the number of deaths from diabetes, Alzheimer’s or influenza.
According to the SHRM report: 1) job insecurity (i.e., fears about losing one’s job) increased the odds of reporting poor health by 50 percent; 2) longer work hours increased mortality by almost 20 percent; and 3) highly demanding jobs raised the odds of a physician-diagnosed illness by 35 percent.”
By focusing on the big picture of wellbeing, employers can reduce stress overall.
Wellbeing and the Market for Good Employees
Recruiting and retention have never been more important to employers, and wellbeing is seen as a key factor in employee loyalty and engagement, valued by both current and potential employees.
The foundation is simply having employees’ best interests at heart. Experts who have studied wellbeing say that the bottom line is that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the company. Communication is a key here—and as many companies have come to realize, meeting employee needs will be different for different age groups. Baby-boomers and millennials have different priorities, often because they are simply at different stages in their lives. Taking the time to talk to them about work issues and stress levels should include getting input on what they think will help them the most.
Managers can play a key role in this, by acting as role models, celebrating accomplishments, and showing flexibility with work schedules. If employees feel empowered to take steps that reduce stress, they will, and both the employee and the workplace will benefit.
Wellbeing During the Holidays - How Employers Can Help
During the holidays, different expectations, cultures, ages, and family models affect employees’ level of stress. It’s important for employers to try to make the holidays less, not more, stressful. They can do that by taking some practical steps:
- Allow more flexibility. Working from home, more flexible hours, frequent breaks, all can help employees deal with the stress of the holiday season while still being productive. Managers should be talking to employees months ahead of the holidays about vacation time and other time-off considerations, so that last-minute conflicts or emergencies are avoided.
- Don’t force the seasonal celebrations. Be mindful that not everyone celebrates the holidays the same way. Some may not celebrate them at all. Again, communication is helpful. Let employees know that their traditions have value and that their workplace won’t apply a one-size-fits-all model to the season. It’s not about political correctness. The focus should be on providing an environment that is considerate to all, while allowing those who want to celebrate their traditions to do so. When in doubt, err on the side of inclusivity and making people feel welcome—you don’t want workers on the outside looking in.
- Take it easy with the cookies. Don’t make everything about food as the holidays approach. Some studies show individuals gain up to 10 pounds over the holidays. Remembering to provide healthy food choices and activity will be appreciated by workers who might otherwise worry about extra holiday baggage.
- Consider the maxim that “less is more.” Remind workers to build time into their workday to unwind and recharge. People tend to over-schedule during the holiday. Employers should be careful not to add to that burden. If certain tasks or projects can be done earlier in the year or after the New Year, consider making scheduling changes. Your employees will appreciate it.
Even after the holidays, employers and employees can build a healthier work environment by thinking about how to improve the wellbeing of both the company and the individuals who make it work.