After a few months of quarantine and working from home, many businesses are now beginning to return cautiously to their physical work environments. If your business is among these, you and your employees may be apprehensive, and that’s understandable. Even under normal conditions, workplaces can cause a lot of stress.
In light of the current pandemic, with all the news stories and health guidelines whirling around, that stress is likely higher than ever — but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take some simple steps in your workplace to help reduce stress for both yourself and your employees, and you can continue using many of them when the pandemic is over.
Stress in the Workplace
Before you start trying to counteract workplace stress, you can benefit from understanding why it’s such a problem. Much of the issue simply comes down to your employees’ mental and emotional comfort — but stress can also have other consequences, such as:
Stress may seem like an entirely psychological issue, but its effects extend to the physical sphere as well. At the minor level, it can produce discomfort in the form of headaches and muscle pain. It can also lead to a loss of sleep, which in turn causes physical exhaustion.
In more severe cases, high stress levels over a long period of time can contribute to diabetes and are among the primary factors leading to heart disease. On top of direct health issues such as those, extreme stress can drive people to substance abuse, further damaging their bodies.
Too much stress can also lead to lower productivity. In part due to the loss of sleep and subsequent exhaustion it causes, stress can prevent people from properly focusing on their work. Plus, even if they’re caught up on sleep, they can still have trouble focusing because their myriad of worries distracts them from what they’re supposed to be doing. When all your employees are suffering from stress, your business isn’t going to function very efficiently.
The Stress of Returning to Work During the Pandemic
Plenty of workplace stress is caused by the day-to-day workload and other features embedded in the work environment. But in today’s circumstances, a good bit of your employees’ stress probably comes from the ongoing pandemic. Several elements of COVID-19 could have them worried, regarding both the general issue and their individual situation.
Perhaps the most straightforward concern involves the possibility of being exposed to the coronavirus at work. When you share a building with people for the majority of the day, especially if you work at a large business with a lot of people, it makes sense for you to be apprehensive about returning to that environment in the midst of a pandemic — particularly if the job makes it difficult to practice any kind of social distancing.
2. Home Life
On top of being worried about the work environment, your employees may bring worries from home. Some may have vulnerable family members they’re responsible for taking care of, and they might be stressed about the possibility of those people becoming infected. This mindset becomes even more trying when paired with the fear of exposure at work, as it can make them worried that they’ll bring home the virus to their family members.
When it comes to COVID-19, your employees’ fear may not be limited to the present. As the pandemic continues in full force, it’s hard to see what the future will look like. Uncertainty over the fate of their work life, their home life and the world as a whole can be a source of stress for many people. Several of your employees may be losing sleep, wondering when it will all be over.
4. Job Difficulties
Each of the previous problems relates to worries about the mere possibility of bad things, but some of the stress over the pandemic comes from more concrete sources. In an effort to combat the spread of the virus, most businesses are being forced to reorient the way they do things.
Though this circumstance initially took the form of working remotely, changes are still in place even as employees return to their physical work environments. In particular, many businesses are experiencing an increased reliance on technology as a replacement for physical interaction. This arrangement has led to plenty of technical difficulties and other frustrations that can contribute to the stress your employees are feeling.
How Can Employers Reduce Stress in the Workplace?
With all of these stressors on your employees, their health and efficiency won’t be at their highest as they return to the office. The good news is that you have options for making up for that detriment. You can do several simple things to improve morale and lower stress levels, both for yourself and your employees. Here are some of the best strategies for managing stress in the workplace:
1. Encourage Walks
One thing that can help reduce stress is physical movement. Something as simple as walking around can give your body an outlet to work off the worry in a way it can’t while sitting in place. Being outdoors can lower stress, as well. Bringing these two things together, then, is a particularly great method for helping your employees.
If your business is located somewhere that accommodates it, encourage your employees to go on walks, maybe during their lunch breaks. When they come back to work again, they’ll be mentally and physically refreshed.
2. Provide Healthy Food
Finding ways to help your employees stay healthy comes with several benefits. On the physical side of things, eating healthier helps them counteract the negative physical effects of the stress, like exhaustion.
But there’s a psychological element too — when they feel like you’re concerned about their health, they’ll feel more cared for, which will do a lot to decrease their worry. You can express this concern by simply encouraging them to eat healthy food, but you can also actually provide some of that food in some form or other, perhaps stocking the refrigerator with healthy snacks every so often.
3. Foster Interaction
One of the worst things for someone under stress to do is isolate themselves, stewing in their anxiety. Stressed people need social interaction to put them at ease and provide them with encouragement. Of course, in a time of social distancing, this interaction can prove difficult, but not impossible.
Look for ways to have your employees interact with one another within the CDC guidelines. Make use of video calls, or start an email chain dedicated simply to talking about everyone’s lives. When your employees feel included and part of a community, they’ll be all the happier for it.
4. Allow for Greater Flexibility
As the employer, you aren’t just limited to giving your employees encouragement. You can also use your authority to provide them with stress-reducing opportunities they might not otherwise have. One example is the amount of work flexibility you give them. To start with, you can allow for time flexibility in their schedules.
If someone wants to come in a few hours earlier than most people, or finish up a few hours later, see if there’s a way to make that happen. Limiting the amount of time they spend around people can help employees feel better about their fear of exposure, and your willingness to let them put in hours while you’re not there to watch can show that you trust them.
Just as you can allow for flexibility regarding when your employees work, you can do the same for where they work. Though the majority of your business may be returning to the physical workplace, if you have an employee who’s particularly afraid to return for one reason or another — like if they’re immunocompromised — consider giving them the option of continuing to work from home, if possible.
5. Offer Benefits
Different businesses have different approaches to benefits. Some are very generous with them, while others take a minimalist approach. But right now, while health and safety is such a huge concern, it’s in your employees’ best interest to have as many benefits as they can. The more they have, the more secure they’ll feel, and the lower their stress will be.
If your business doesn’t currently offer a lot of benefits, see if there’s anything you can do to change that. It will keep your employees happier and more secure, and it will foster greater loyalty from them both during and after the pandemic.
6. Provide Counseling
Another service you can offer your employees is counseling. Though it can be particularly helpful in the midst of COVID-19, counseling is a valuable asset for your employees even under normal conditions. Once workplace stress reaches a certain level, it becomes toxic for anyone to try dealing with it on their own.
A workplace counselor can act as a place for your employees to vent their concerns and feel acknowledged, giving helpful and comforting feedback in response.
7. Encourage Breaks
Even if your employees take full advantage of their lunch break to go on a walk or socialize virtually with their coworkers, working for four hours at a time on either side of that break can still be taxing. One helpful method for reducing the resulting stress and exhaustion is to simply take more breaks.
As the employer, you can find ways to allow for these breaks. You can either encourage employees to take breaks when they feel they need them — not long ones, maybe only around five minutes — or create set times for everyone to pause what they’re doing and relax, perhaps using that time to interact through video chat or email. Those brief breaks will let everyone recharge a little bit, so they’re more productive when they get back to work.
8. Recognize Employees
As we’ve already seen, a lot of what helps your employees reduce stress is receiving affirmation from other people. On top of the physical methods, like walking and eating healthy food, things like socializing with coworkers and feeling like you care about their health can work wonders for their emotional state.
To this end, you can do a lot for your employees by taking the time to recognize their achievements. This recognition could take the form of something as simple as telling them you appreciate their hard work, though you can also create accolades of some sort to award those who are doing a particularly good job.
9. Encourage Unity
Another way you can give your employees affirmation is to remind them that they’re not alone. Caught up in stress, they can easily feel isolated, so be sure to help them understand that you’re all struggling through this pandemic. Don’t lean on cliches to make this point, but do get the point across somehow. It’s a small thing, but it can do a lot to further a sense of togetherness, and that can be very uplifting.
10. Implement Safety Guidelines
If you’re returning to your physical workplace while the pandemic’s still in full swing, you should be closely following all relevant safety guidelines regardless. These are crucial for keeping you and your employees safe.
But they also have the added effect of putting your employees’ minds at ease. Seeing you enforce safety guidelines, they can feel safer. It’s not fun to keep people six feet apart or wear a mask everywhere, but it’s necessary for the time being, and your employees will most likely appreciate you for it.
11. Use Office Design
To a certain extent, your employees’ stress levels don’t depend on what you do in your work environment — they depend on the environment itself. A person’s physical surroundings can have a marked effect on the way they feel, including how stressed they are. By taking advantage of how office design affects stress, you can bolster your workers’ moods.
One way to do this is to consider the way the rooms are painted. Brown or white walls won’t do much to elicit good feelings, but blue and green can give the work environment a cozier and more welcoming look. The inclusion of greenery can have the same effect. You might also consider maximizing the number of windows present in the work area, as natural light can further reduce stress.
Finally, in the context of COVID-19, you can bring safety guidelines together with design by using cubicles in your office. Although open office spaces are more popular, they provide no protection whatsoever against the spread of the coronavirus. Cubicles put physical walls between your employees that can help keep them safe. And if you get cubicles with transparent panes on top, the employees can even see and interact with each other while still maintaining that barrier.
How Arnold’s Can Help
At Arnold’s Office Furniture, we know it’s important to account for how office design affects employees. In these trying few months, that importance is greater than ever. If you’re looking for a way to juggle the competing demands of having your employees at work, lowering their stress levels and keeping them safe, we have just what you need.
As the sole distributor of Sunline cubicles, we offer completely customizable arrangements for your office. Our easy installation process can reduce stress for everyone in your office, including you. To get started, get in touch with us with any questions you have, or request a quote today.