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The strain of 2020 – 2021 continues to have detrimental health effects on the workforce. Studies reveal that workplace stress is the number one public health crisis.
Physiologically, we are wired to feel stress to keep us safe. It’s a millions-years-old internal warning system that protects us from harm and predators. Many of us have heard the phrase fight-or-flight. Our hypothalamus sets off an alarm system that gets our bodies pumping: adrenal glands release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol; our heart rate increases; our blood pressure goes up; cortisol releases glucose into the blood stream; cortisol suppresses the digestive system and alters our immune response. This is all to keep us alive in a moment of need. The stress response is auto regulated in the body, and as soon as the perceived threat goes away, our bodies go back to how they should function.
Our bodies do not recover when stress is chronic. Constant stress – often experienced at the workplace and that has been heightened in the last year and a half – has long-term health effects. High blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease, chronic disease like cancer and diabetes, anxiety, depression, and weight gain are just a few health consequences of chronic stress. These diseases lead to expensive treatments, medications, and increased absenteeism at work, causing even more stress.
Here are 4 ideas to reduce stress at work. What is your organization doing to support your collaborators’ health?
1. Grief & Loss Counseling. 2020 and rolling into 2021 have been times of grief and loss – not only for the family members, friends, and peers we might have lost due to Covid-19, which is devastating, but also the loss of interactions people used to enjoy (going to a book club, a bar after work, out with friends), the loss of identity, the loss of office comradery (for those who went remote). Loneliness, grief, and loss should be recognized and addressed at work. Take the time to connect with and call your collaborators and say, “How are you doing?” Make it okay to talk about mental health challenges in meetings and at work. Give people space to grieve what was and the tools they need to face now and move forward though seminars, access to mental health care professionals, counseling, therapy and more.
2. “People have a lot of life going on.” Life isn’t work and work isn’t life. People have lives, families, hobbies, interests, passions. And you want that for your organization – people coming in fresh, rested, and ready to give their all. Bring life to work, but also be mindful about drawing those necessary boundaries.
3. Get moving! There’s a direct tie between mental health and physical activity. Encourage collaborators and their families to get active. Begin a weekend hiking or geocaching club; bring in a Zumba teacher to give classes at lunch or right after work; likewise, offer meditation and yoga classes at work; organize a group to sign up for a Turkey Trot, Jingle Jog, or any number of races that happen during the year. Encourage movement and activity all year.
4. Revamp your snack options. High sugar, highly processed foods are a killer for our immune system, not to mention our bodies in general. There’s a direct tie between gut health and mental health. This is called the gut-brain connection. Digestive issues that are common with stress can be alleviated by targeting gut health. Work with a corporate wellness nutritionist to audit the cafeteria and snack options to include healthier, satisfying options. By investing in a corporate nutritionist and wellness program ,you’re investing in your collaborators’ health – giving them necessary tools to make long-lasting changes to their diets and, in turn, health.
Some of the ways to reduce stress in the organization might have to go way deeper than healthier snacks. According to SHRM, these are the top five work stressors: low salaries; lack of opportunity for growth and advancement; too heavy a workload; unrealistic expectations from leaders; long hours. Does this sound familiar?
What is your organization doing to improve the health and wellbeing of its collaborators’ day-to-day life? Start by analyzing these five factors, snack options, opportunities for movement and more, and make those necessary changes.