We’re all overworked these days and have a million distractions both personally and professionally. It seems a minute doesn’t go by where my phone isn’t ringing, texts aren’t flying or I’m not being pinged from one of my multiple devices from a variety of friends, family members, and work colleagues. If you’re feeling the pinch too, you’re not alone. Time is in short supply and it’s more precious a commodity than ever.

We’re all feeling the effects of being “always on” nearly 24/7. We’re up at 2 a.m. (or at least I am) scrolling through newsfeeds in the blue light of our phones. We’re suffering from allergies, colds, aches, pains, and exhaustion. Taking time to exercise feels like a luxury. Our health is taking the hit, and we’re still just spinning in circles. Workplace leaders: If this hits home with you, how do you think your colleagues and employees feel? And what are you going to do about it?

Give your employees the gift of stress reduction training and support

The best gift you can give your team and your leaders are training, tools, and resources to be able to better manage stress so that they can prioritize their time in order to bring their best selves to work every single day. It’s also the best gift you can give yourself. I have a hard time following my own advice, but this is one area where I’m determined to take it. My business depends on it and so does yours.

The best gift you can give your team and your leaders are training, tools, and resources to be able to better manage stress…in order to bring their best selves to work every single day. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2wBHSn9

Recently, I’ve been diving into the work of Dr. Cynthia Ackrill and her views on teaching leaders how to understand the signs of their own stress, how to best manage stress, and the importance of practicing self-care. Part of being a good leader is recognizing your own need for improvement, working to make changes, and being transparent about it so you can set a good example for the people in your work life (and personal life).

Related content: How to Build Healthier Work Environments


One of her videos that really hit home with me is on the cost of stress. Businesses spend billions of dollars a year in absenteeism and 70% of all doctor visits are due to stress. We’re more prone to accidents and mistakes when we’re stressed. The costs of replacing employees who leave due to burnout - because of stress - are astronomical, not to mention the cost in lost productivity. The fact is, stress is a “silent” cost because it’s not always apparent. What we can do is get ahead of the issue and introduce programs to help mitigate stress at work.

Obstacles to stress reduction at work

Stress, left unattended, can lead to health problems like headaches, digestive issues, poor sleep, and a weakened immune system. These can have long-term effects on the lives of the people that are important to the success of your business.

Consider that most of your best employees are high performers, but they’re also the least likely to voluntarily participate in training programs to reduce stress. Why? It’s just a fact that - from the tech boom in the 90s to the always-on work style in the present - people tend to perceive stress as a weakness. It’s built in to interview screening: How do you handle stressful situations? Can you give an example? How did you resolve it?

Related content: 5 Practical Ways to Stay Positive, Even at Work


Leaders, naturally high performers, fall right into this category. Dr. Askill takes it even one step further: Leaders aren’t just reluctant to participate in coping skills workshops, they’re also in denial about their level of stress, and unwilling to see self-care as a priority.

Askill says that there are a multitude of reasons we are in this perfect stress storm of denial that we are over-busy, unhealthy, and unhappy. To name a few:

  • We confuse knowledge with motivation, and then further beat ourselves up for “failing." Unfortunately, knowing a lot about heart disease does not make you immune to it.
  • We do not take the time to figure out our own “user’s manual” and create strategies for self-optimization.
  • We do not appreciate just how hard behavior change is—it requires steps, strategies, and support. (You have to actually rewire your brain!)
  • We continue to think we can just get to this later.

When you have the energy, you need to be efficient and you can accomplish so much more than when you are depleted. Presenteeism—or being at work, but not effective—wastes enormous time and money for all. In a study by Virgin Pulse, prioritizing health and happiness added 10 more productive days per year for each employee. If you run a large company, that can add up to hundreds or thousands of hours in time lost if the impact of stress is not addressed.

According to a recent “Attitudes in the American Workplace VII” annual Labor Day poll by The Marlin Company, more than a third of workers (35%) say their jobs are harming their physical or emotional health and 42% say job pressures are interfering with their personal relationships; half say they have a more demanding workload this year than last. Understanding that stress management is needed is a great first step, but putting it into action requires some additional work.

More than a third (35%) of workers say their jobs are harming their physical or emotional health and 42% say job pressures are interfering with their personal relationships. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2wBHSn9

Identifying your overly-stressed workforce

The most difficult part of implementing a stress reduction training program is identifying the employees that are at the highest risk. Observation of behavior is important - how employees communicate, offboarding meetings with outgoing employees who might be leaving your company due to overwork, the kinds of complaints you’re receiving in HR, and any changes in time off due to illness that may be linked to work stress.

In HR, we also have tools that we can use to collect information from employees. You can use assessments and reports to identify employees who are seeking assistance without directly asking your human resources department. In many cases, using an outside service for surveys about stress can increase employee trust and participation. 

Your department heads and team leaders are an excellent resource for measuring stress levels of employees in specific departments within your organization. They’re the likeliest recipients of employee communication about workload, bandwidth, work hours, and other indicators of overwork. Ensure that you have open lines of communication with your company leaders and work to help them identify behaviors that indicate employee stress.

Stress reduction training

Once you’ve trained your company leaders on the basics of recognizing stress in their departments, and once you’ve identified a need for stress reduction training, you can begin to identify the areas in which your HR department can address through training and workshops. For example, financial stability is the greatest cause of individual stress. Consider offering workshops on money management or learning sessions to help employees better manage the source of financial stress. Think specific stressor, rather than broad overarching stress reduction training.

When it comes to overwork, offering training sessions that focus on things like time management, work-life balance, or productivity can help alleviate the source of work burnout. Some companies even bring in outside instructors for regular meditation or yoga classes, and set aside time each day for employees to work it into their daily schedules.

Related content: How to Build Resilience in Organizations Undergoing Change


Finally, change can be a huge stressor for your workforce. Companies like RiseSmart offer resiliency training that empowers employees and managers to embrace and manage change to achieve higher engagement and productivity.


Jessica Miller-Merrell is a workplace change agent and author focused on human resources and talent acquisition. She lives in Austin, TX and is recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer. She's the founder of Workology.

04 September 2018

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