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Putting resilience at the heart of fighting workplace stress

February 24, 2020
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A healthy workforce consists of employees who are able to cope, and hopefully even thrive, in the face of acute stress.

But chronic stress, which results from frequent exposure to situations that trigger the release of cortisol and other stress hormones, can lead to employee burnout. And, according to Harvard Medical School, burned-out employees are more likely to engage in damaging behaviors, such as smoking, substance abuse and compulsive overeating, that negatively affect heart health.

With 83% of Americans suffering from work-related stress at any given time, about 1 million workers miss work each day. Unfortunately, employers risk more than productivity loss. The grim reality is work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths each year, according to the American Institute of Stress. Stressed employees also drive about $190 billion in health care costs.

The Mayo Clinic highlights several factors that make employees feel stressed:

  • Unclear job expectations.
  • Extremes of activity (e.g., a monotonous job suddenly turns chaotic).
  • An inability to influence decisions that affect their jobs, such as their work schedule, assignments, workload and resources.
  • Being unable to strike a healthy balance between work and personal life.
  • Feeling isolated at work and in their personal lives.
  • Economic insecurity and financial stress.

While some of these factors are outside your control as an employer, it's certainly within your power to, for example, clarify job expectations and help employees manage their workloads by better communicating priorities. But what about the stressors that you can't remove?

When part of a larger wellness strategy, resilience training can help your employees develop the ability to bounce back from all the ups and downs that work entails. It can also increase their capacity for dealing with change.

American Heart Month is the ideal time to learn how emotional resilience improves heart health. Keep reading to discover key health promotion strategies for fighting workplace stress and burnout.

Broaden the scope of employee wellness to include resilience training
Compared with a decade ago, employers now view wellness programs as a key aspect of their employee benefits package, according to the 2019 Optum Wellness in the Workplace study. And it's no wonder: These programs not only improve workplace satisfaction and engagement but also decrease employee absenteeism. But many companies neglect to include a key element of wellness: employee resilience.

Given the health concerns facing American workers today, a growing number of employers have already added resilience training to their wellness programs, according to a 2020 report on workplace stress management. Following in their footsteps by, say, integrating it into your employee onboarding program could help you reap rewards like greater employee loyalty and increased workforce productivity.

Improve employee health through resilience training
Resilient employees have the skills to deal with setbacks as well as the capacity to move on after they encounter a stumbling block, according to the American Heart Association's CEO Roundtable, a leadership collaborative dedicated to building healthier workplaces. They also have higher self-esteem, a sense of efficacy over their lives and the ability to better manage stress. But does it indeed help their heart health?

The American Heart Association's Resilience in the Workplace survey of 1,001 working Americans shows it does. Seventy-three percent of respondents said resilience training had improved their health either a fair amount or a great deal. Specific outcomes reported by participants included having more energy (51%), exercising regularly (45%) and enjoying an improved quality of life (41%).

The takeaway? Employee resilience training not only strengthens your workforce at scale but also improves their overall health and well-being.

Raise awareness of mental health and wellness issues
The CEO Roundtable reports that stress-related mental health disorders are common across the U.S. workforce. For example, many workers struggle with depression in addition to physical conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. This finding is backed up by the American Psychological Association, whose 2019 survey of more than 3,500 Americans over 18 identified the workplace as a significant source of stress.

Given how pervasive both chronic stress and mental health disorders are within America's workforce, the CEO Roundtable recommends that employers provide comprehensive mental health prevention and treatment programs. After all, employees do spend most of their waking hours at work, driving the success of their company. Employers should take some responsibility for their mental health.

Taking your first steps toward employee wellness
The first step in tackling chronic workplace stress is to reduce stigma by normalizing it through conversation. Occupational stress may not be an easy problem to solve, but employee wellness initiatives — from yoga and meditation workshops to resilience training — are a win-win for your employees and your company. While you benefit from increased employee loyalty and greater productivity, employees will achieve gains in their health and happiness, both at and away from work.

If you’re interested in learning more about workplace wellness and how to implement a program at your workplace, contact Health Links.

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