When China’s 996 workplace culture was in the news last quarter, feathers ruffled across the world making it a top discussion in offices across the globe. Is the hustle to stay ahead of competition overwhelming our workforce? It appears to be the case with the internet in an uproar on how stress at the workplace is a leading cause of depression, and more employers now encouraging employees to take mental wellness breaks. That is definitely the first step--acknowledging the problem at hand before we look at remedies to arrest its growth. The growing acceptance of this truth brings us to the observance of ‘International Stress Awareness Week’, reminding every stakeholder at the workplace to take better measures at understanding, monitoring, evaluating, and designing solutions that can help detect early symptoms of stress.
As organizations race to achieve desired business goals in a highly competitive market, their growth workforce, cannot be ignored. The need to stay competitive leads to a heightened work-load which needs to be achieved within set timelines. This race more often than not can lead to stress inducing issues such as aggression at the workplace, strained manager-executive relationships and even worse, burnout. Additionally, technology has disrupted how we work today, catapulting work-life balance to accommodate work and life integration. Essentially work follows us wherever we go on most days and so does associated stress, making it difficult to strike a balance between work and personal life. In fact, several recent studies suggest that four in 10 employees working in Indian companies suffer from sleep disorders, mostly linked to work-related stress. This in turn manifests at the workplace in the form of loss of productivity at the workplace, irritable behavior, forgetfulness, and even absenteeism.
It is estimated that a typical employer, with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 Mn every year due to fatigue, the biggest perpetrator of burnout at the workplace. Burnout, which is getting more attention lately, has major implications on both physical and emotional health. For instance, stress can disturb the entire immune system that leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc. Chronic stress can also have an effect on the behavioral changes such as sleep disorder, erratic eating habits, and anxiety, thereby affecting the mental and physical health of an individual. Studies also indicate that women workers are impacted more in comparison to their male counterparts. It is thus, very essential to have effective stress management strategies within an organization, so that the serious repercussions of stress on the employees as well as their performance can be reduced and controlled.
Organizations can work on three key areas that can help their workforce de-stress – streamlining schedule management process, regular communication, and wellness programs. Some companies offer flexible schedules where employees choose their hours. With appropriate workforce management solutions, the entire scheduling process can be streamlined – without increasing the stress on employees and their managers. Employees can inform organizations regarding their availability and preference to work and these tools can align the organization’s needs with that of the employee, thereby eliminating both employee and organizational stress. Systems and policies that take care of ensuring that employees get the rest they need and the breaks that they deserve, go a long way not just in terms of reducing stress but also towards improving morale and engagement.
Now with technology, even as HR processes go online, employers should continue to encourage face-to-face conversations as it is an important de-stressor. Companies should focus on not just instilling good employee friendly policies but also look at the modalities of delivering on these practices, keeping the unique psychological needs of each employee in mind. How employers or managers deal with stress at the workplace can have a huge impact on the perceived workplace culture.
Lastly, promoting and emphasizing on the mental health aspects of employee wellness is also critical. Companies should create an impetus on stress coping strategies and encourage reasonable work hours and frequent vacations. Some companies even offer incentives for stress management training. Additionally, short stress management tips can also be included into company communications to reiterate the need to address stress as a non-issue but a natural process of addressing anxiety.
If we were to look at global best practices, that organizations recognised as Great Places to Work have put in place, a couple of them stand out quite evidently. For example, the concept of a four day work week or even unlimited paid time off, have been received very well by both employers as well as employees. As the nature of work evolves and the manner in which we carry it out progresses, it is important to focus on work from an outcome or goal based perspective, than be limited by conventional practices as a stipulated 8 hours 5 day work week. The idea is to empower employees to be efficient and productive with adequate tools and technology so that they can accomplish their goals in a shorter time. This can go a long way in building happy workplaces and even control attrition levels.
In an insightful study conducted by the Kronos Workforce Institute across eight countries, the top five things people worldwide wish they could do more of are spend time with family (44 percent); travel (43 percent); exercise (33 percent); spend time with friends (30 percent); and pursue their hobbies (29 percent). Rest and relaxation were the other big themes that featured, as 27 percent of people said they would want to get more sleep and nearly one-quarter (22 percent) would focus on mental health. More sleep is a universal desire regardless of age – from Gen Z (27 percent) to Baby Boomers (26 percent) – although U.S. workers (33 percent) crave more sleep than all other nations, with Indian workers desiring the least amount of additional shut-eye (16 percent).
In the recent news about Microsoft Japan’s four-day work week boosting productivity by 40 percent is ample proof that organizations should come out of their conventional cultures and experiment more with best practices. There is so much that one can do if they had an additional day to themselves in terms of personal growth, but the challenge lies in many overlooking the co-relation between personal and professional growth. This definitely needs more thinking and reciprocal actions. After all, employers only stand to gain from a happy workforce. And happy people make for a Great place to Work!