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How human resources can help employees manage stress

Workplace stress cited as top health risk facing employees

By Brian Kreissl

Stress is top of mind for me right now because I'm having one of those really awful, stressful weeks. And the whole idea of work-life balance is a completely alien concept to me at the moment with major work, family and academic deliverables all demanding and competing for my time and attention.

Ironically, one of the deliverables I'm stressed out about is a seminar a colleague and I are preparing and presenting on managing stress in the workplace. I'm trying to remain calm about everything, stay active, eat healthy and practice what I’m preaching in the seminar on stress management, but it's tough when there literally aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done.

Another factor focusing my mind on workplace stress and the issue of work-life balance is an academic group project I'm currently finishing up. The project is on — believe it or not — employee wellness initiatives.

This is significant because, according to the 2011 Buffett National Wellness Survey, the top health concern cited by employers with respect to the establishment of employee wellness programs was workplace stress. Employers are finally recognizing workplace stress is a serious health hazard, potentially leading to such problems as headaches, back pain, anxiety, insomnia, substance abuse, high blood pressure, obesity and eventually to even more serious problems such as burnout and exhaustion, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

According to Statistics Canada, the annual cost of workplace stress to companies is $12 billion. It also reports absenteeism due to workplace stress has increased more than 300 per cent since 1995. Clearly, helping employees relieve stress benefits employees and employers alike.

Yet, it’s also important to note stress isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Stress, which is sometimes defined as abnormal physical, mental or emotional tension or strain caused by external stimuli, can be positive (eustress) or negative (distress).

While a certain amount of stress can provide motivation, spur creativity and lead to a mild feeling of euphoria and excitement, too much stress can have negative physical, mental and emotional consequences.

What can HR do to help?

HR can help by implementing effective employee wellness programs that help employees manage and eliminate stress in their work and personal lives. Such initiatives include employee assistance programs (EAPs), stress management workshops, fitness subsidies or on-site gyms and workplace massage days. Also of significance are programs designed to save employees time such as corporate cafeterias, on-site amenities such as dry cleaners, post offices, pharmacies and even employee concierge services.

Flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, flexible hours, part-time work and job-sharing can also help employees maintain work-life balance. Occasionally being able to work from home and a certain degree of flexibility around where and when I complete my work certainly help me balance work and family commitments.

It’s also worth mentioning my employer, Carswell, is one company that doesn’t just pay lip service to the notion of work-life balance, even if I’m personally not feeling much balance right now. Most people around here leave by 5 p.m. and the bulk of employees have Friday afternoons off. But the realities of modern life are such that even if you work for an enlightened employer, you’re still going to experience workplace stress at some point.

My personal lack of balance this week was self-inflicted because I volunteered for too many things, which all seemed to happen at once. That brings me to my next point, which is HR can help organizations create a culture that respects people’s personal lives and their obligations outside work. They can also help employees set reasonable goals and expectations for themselves.

It’s also important to coach and train managers on having reasonable expectations of employees. As a manager, it may even be necessary at times to provide coaching to employees and gently convince them they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

Anyway, I must stop here. I’m off to complete that presentation on managing stress in the workplace. I’d be happy to hear from readers in terms of additional things HR can do to help employees manage stress.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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  • RE: Can not having enough challenge at work be stressful?
    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 5:04:00 PM by Brian Kreissl
    I certainly do think not having enough work can be stressful. I've been in that situation, and there's always the worry you may lose your job, or that you will get into trouble for not appearing to be busy (although the best strategy is usually to volunteer for special projects if at all possible). Different things cause stress for different people, and something like not having enough work could very well be a stressor for some.

    This week I read about some research stating that boring, repetitive work is a type of stress on its own, so I could easily see why not having enough work could also be stressful, especially if you are a go-getter who likes to keep busy.