Why investing in stress reduction doesn't work

Stress is the number one source of dysfunction at work and chances are high, that you're handling it wrong. We're here to help.
Stress is a complex thing. Decreasing it is not as easy as taking extra vacation or reducing hours at work.
We all have it, we all hate it: stress. Stress is everywhere around us but did you know that stress actually is the number one source of dysfunction at work? It can result in discomfort, conflict, anxiety, or lead to burnout. A study from Norway of 3000 managers found four major sources of stress at the workplace:

  1. Time pressure and workload
  2. Emotional strain
  3. Role conflict between the demands from top management and coworkers
  4. Conflict between work and private life

Effectively helping stressed-out employees requires a much wider focus than on the symptom itself and this is why investing in common stress reduction methods often fails in the long run.

How can you support stressed-out employees at work?
The outdated approach to stress reduction at work
Methods for stress reduction are as old as stress itself. Most suggested cures are short-term oriented and focus on the person experiencing the stress: take a deep breath, go for a walk, exercise, say no to requests or extra work, sleep better, eat well and drink less alcohol. While most of these techniques are powerful when dealing with stress in the moment, they don't offer sustainable solutions that benefit long term stress reduction. The reason why going on regular walks and drinking less alcohol doesn't impact stress as much as often required is, that these methods fail to take context into account.

It's not just about being stressed. It's about why you are stressed and how it affects you. And here's where stress at work becomes such a big bad guy: it's often due to social context which is difficult for the individual to control. As the research mentioned earlier showed, most of the stress experienced at work comes from interactions rather than tasks. Stress is released when you are in contact with someone else and that someone is closely linked to the process of achieving your goals.

This means that in order to reduce stress we can't just focus on ourselves. We must take the bigger, social context into account. Are you aligned with company values? Is your manager managing you in an appropriate manner? Do you have healthy relationships with your coworkers?

While answering each one of these questions negatively can lead to a certain amount of stress, when several of the things mentioned above go wrong, the complexity of stress one single employee may feel at work becomes very apparent.

80% of employees feel stress on the job, and nearly half of them say they need help in learning how to manage stress. 42% say their coworkers need such help as well. The reality is that we weren't prepared for this amount of stress and are lacking the tools to deal with it.

Employees claim they need help managing stress - not more time off work or less to do. This is an important finding that underlines why investing in company retreats and wellness isn't the best way to help employees reduce stress.

As a leader, how do you manage employee stress appropriately?
How to handle stress at work effectively
The number one way to reduce stress at work is to nourish and create positive relationships. Are you investing in relationships with your co-workers and managers? And, more importantly, is management actively encouraging employees to build relationships? Many employees will not be able to answer this question with a yes. In fact, many managers still see relationships at work as a performance hinderer. This approach can be seriously damaging not just for the individual, but for the company culture as a whole.

Creating positive relationships at work should be viewed as a goal - just like achieving a deadline. This way their importance becomes clear - making it easier to allocate effort to them. Once relationships have become a vital part of work achievements, investments can be made.

This means helping employees manage stress is about supporting them to develop valuable relationship skills.

What skills do you need to develop to to benefit your work relationship? And as a leader, how can you support employees in developing valuable relationship skills?

Investing in a Culture for Growth
If stress at work is mainly related to relationships and you can develop skills to support them, finding a way to strategically support employees in developing beneficial skills is vital. This is where training comes in.

At Everyday, we believe that you should focus your training on building a culture for growth. A growth culture is characterized by the following factors:
Psychological Safety
An environment that feels safe, fueled first by top by leaders willing to role model vulnerability and take personal responsibility for their shortcomings and mistakes.
Continious Learning
A focus on continuous learning through inquiry, curiosity and transparency, in place of judgment, certainty and self-protection.
Time-limited, manageable experiments with new behaviors in order to test our unconscious assumption that changing the status quo is dangerous and likely to have negative consequences.
Continuous feedback — up, down and across the organization – grounded in a shared commitment to helping each other grow and get better.
You can read more about our take on growth cultures here.

So how does a growth culture help you reduce stress?

In order to develop a growth culture, you need to focus on training both individual and relationship skills - encouraging employees to both become aware and act impactfully when it comes to managing their day to day work and relationships. It's easy to see how training self-compassion, mindfulness and team dynamics can help manage stress, but resilience and flow can be just as important when it comes to stress reduction - and all of them help you establish and maintain a growth culture.
12 skills to support growth and reduce stress
At Everyday, our training focuses on 12 skills that directly effect the individual and the relationships around them.

We believe that all of these skills not only support employees to thrive at work, but also help them lay the foundation for long term happiness. 90% of your happiness is defined by how you process the world - and Psychologist Shawn Achor argues that, actually, happiness inspires us to be more innovative and engaged while experiencing less stress. According to research, a positive thinking brain is 31% more productive on average - a powerful number that clearly impacts business results.
Discover the 12 skills to help you manage stress at work
Download an overview of the 12 skills you need to improve your work-relationships and reduce stress once and for all.
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At Everyday, we believe in giving everyone the opportunity to grow and positively impact the teams and organizations they work for.
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