It is undeniable: stress is widespread across today’s workplaces.
A Mental Health Foundation survey found that 74 percent of adults experiencing chronic stress felt ‘unable to cope’ as a result, impacting their daily lives and careers. And since the pandemic, there has been an explosive 25 percent increase in the incidence of anxiety and depression worldwide.
According to research, in the workplace, this translates to 17 million days of absenteeism, citing that on average, each person needed to take 16.5 days off from work.
However, according to the concept of eustress (“good stress”), there is a positive form of psychological stress, which could help individuals feel more motivated, productive, and happier in the workplace.
Why eustress is best
Negative workplace stress is a costly oversight for businesses, but when moderate levels of stress result in short, productive bursts of energy in your daily life – that is eustress.
Eustress has positive workplace outcomes for those able to identify how it manifests; it lowers procrastination when completing a specific task at work.
Eustress enhances well-being as the person gains career satisfaction through productivity. There is a vital balance at play that makes for a healthy work environment if organizations support and encourage it.
Exploiting the power of eustress in the workplace
As explained, a hallmark of eustress is that it presents in short bursts of productivity. Biologically, our brains have a better-developed response to tasks when we know that we have a break on the horizon.
The best way to harness eustress is to manage the day and its tasks by setting 25-minute timers throughout and rewarding yourself with a short break.
During these breaks, it is recommended to move the body and have a change of scenery. This enables one to move from that eustress psychological state to one with a sense of achievement, allowing them to switch off.
For example, a quick walk around the block and returning to make a cup of tea before beginning work again helps to eliminate stress build-up making it easier to start the next task on our list.
Why chronic stress is bad
Two hormones are in circulation when we are stressed: cortisol and adrenaline.
They host an essential function in the body and trigger us to enter ‘fight or flight’ mode which is intended to be temporary. Long-term exposure to cortisol, in particular, will eventually begin to have negative effects on mental and physical health.
In a workplace context, continual chronic stress will impact one’s ability to work effectively and productively. Oftentimes, colleagues who are experiencing long-term chronic stress will present with the following: brain fog, irritability, oversensitivity, and the inability to concentrate and retain information.
Moreover, physical and mental health-related manifestations are well-recorded. These include high blood pressure, inflammation within the body, and aches and pains like tight chest pains, anxiety, and depression.
Train for triggers
Managers and executives are responsible for identifying these signals among their colleagues and being responsive. Keeping employees educated on the mental health support resources available is critical.
Emotional literacy training is an effective tool to boost employee resilience by ensuring staff have a common language to discuss distress. It can improve managers’ abilities to support their employees, equipping them with knowledge, self-awareness, and empathy, making them better listeners.
Bespoke employee benefits
Responsible employers should offer an array of options tailored to the workforce and based on employee feedback.
Where signs of burnout are recognized, employers should signpost employees towards the emotional wellbeing support available to them. This may include Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or cognitive behavioral therapy sessions (CBT), which give individuals direct access to a specialist who can help them explore and understand the factors which are impacting their health and wellbeing.
These offerings show conversations about stress and mental health are both welcomed and expected which in turn ensures early intervention and uptake among staff.
By Lisa Gunn, Mental Health Prevention Lead, Nuffield Health.