Workplace Stress: When the house is on fire, Awareness is Not Nearly Enough

April is Stress Awareness Month.

April is Stress Awareness Month. Good, I think. As a stress expert I find myself feeling quite conflicted about this.

On the one hand, it's a great thing and very necessary. It focuses attention on a critical quality of life issue that can so negatively impact us as human beings. (I could also spend a lot of time talking to you about positive stress as an essential life force but, in this blog, I won't.)

On the other hand, when I consider how Stress Awareness Month plays out in most workplaces it is not good enough. On a practical level, it usually means that organizations will send out some emails from their healthcare provider or the health and wellness department, letting employees know that it is stress awareness month. There will be tips. With links to articles. Then, it will be over.

Most employees however don't really need to be reminded about their stress. They are well aware of it, thank you very friggin' much, because they live it every day. Awareness is a band-aid when a tourniquet is more in order.

With the latest research still showing that stress is the #1 work risk issue for employees, the real question is what are organizations going to do about it? Most continue to hand it off to health and wellness and hope that they'll take care of it. We already know that doesn't work very well

If organizations really want to help employees with stress, and start reducing the billion dollar healthcare and performance-related costs associated with it, they can start by doing three things:

  1. Provide a confidential assessment  – so individuals can have a baseline measure of their personal profile allowing each to pinpoint their unique stress strengths and vulnerabilities. Stress is complex and multi-faceted. Assessment defines and clarifies the problem areas, removing the mystery and guesswork.
  2. Offer resiliency programming that includes education AND behavior change so employees can be equipped to manage the stressors they most need/want to improve. These programs need to move beyond the realm of "eat your broccoli and take the stairs" to include mental, emotional and behavioral resiliency with tailored solutions. Technology can help here.
  3. Expect the C-Suite to lead by example on this – get a leader from as high up the ladder as possible to introduce and spearhead a stress and resiliency initiative. In companies big and small it's always "follow the leader." Get the CEO, the COO, the CFO or anyone with a title ending in "O" to model the behavior of resiliency and good things will start happening.

Happy Stress Awareness Month! Now get back to work

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