Workplace health and wellness programs have been around for decades and focus primarily on preventive health care, nutrition and exercise—all of which are vital to employee well being. However, these programs could be overlooking a key component of health: managing stress.

Since April is National Stress Awareness Month, we wanted to take some time to reflect on stress, particularly its presence in the workplace. Not only can stress take a toll on individuals, but it can also have a negative impact on your workforce. It’s important to know how stress can affect employees and ways to limit those effects.

Effects of Stress on the Individual

While the short-term effects of stress played a role in human survival and helped us avoid predators, today, long-term stress can have a significant negative impact on our health. The list of stress-related ailments continues to expand as research explores the topic further, but, as it stands, there is a wide range of health issues that can result from stress.

On one end of the spectrum, muscle tension can lead to headaches or chronic pain. While chronic pain shouldn’t be taken lightly, the impact of stress on the heart is even more disconcerting. Exposure to ongoing stress can have long-term effects on heart rate and blood pressure and has been linked to an increase in risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke.

Those who are routinely under stress are also more prone to illness in general. Studies have shown that people who are stressed are more likely to catch the common cold and take longer to recover from a cold.

Impact on the Workforce

The effects of stress don’t stop with the individual; whether work is the root of stress or not, the stress-level of employees and how it’s managed can impact the workforce as a whole.

Stress can lead to decreased productivity, as it steals focus. And since stress increases the risk of getting sick, employees are more likely to miss work.

If stress doesn’t get in the way of an employee completing work, it could eventually drive them away. According to workforce insights released by Randstad, stress is one of the top three reasons given for leaving a job.

How to Limit Stress in the Workplace

Stress from the home can follow people to work and vice versa. While you can’t control the personal stressors your employees face—such as financial or relationship-related stress—you can try to limit work-related stress.

As we mentioned earlier, not all employee wellness programs are created equal. Be sure to choose programs that have a focus on stress reduction and provide a well-rounded health insurance plan that coordinates with the wellness programs in place.

It’s also important to manage workloads and maintain open lines of communication. Sometimes just having the opportunity to talk about stress can help reduce its effects, so make sure to give employees the opportunity to voice frustrations.

Some of the most important communication is related to difficult situations, such as layoffs. It’s impossible to predict a workforce reduction, but you can plan for them in advance and find ways to reduce the stresses they might bring. By offering severance and outplacement services, employees know they’ll be taken care of in the event of a layoff.

Simply being around stress or watching others experience stress can also cause empathetic stress, so, in a way, stress can be contagious. That means if employees see their coworkers face a layoff without career transition, that stress is likely to be passed along to remaining employees. The negative impact of stress on your organization could be widespread if not addressed proactively.

While some sources of stress are out of an employer’s control, there are steps you can take to make employees feel secure, valued and prepared to manage stress.

14 April 2016

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