Workplace Stress Busters: How Employee Wellness Programs Are Supposed to Work
For SoFi’s millennial members, Twenty One Pilots’ hit “Stressed Out” is more than a good song—it’s an anthem. And this lyric says it all: “Out of student loans and treehouse homes, we all would take the latter.”
Now imagine dragging that anchor to a new city to take a high-powered job. Mix in pressures to make new friends or carve out time for a romantic relationship, and it’s little wonder that, according to the 2015 Stress in America report of the American Psychological Association (APA), millennials are the most stressed out of the generations. Gen X ranks second, and together they account for over two-thirds of working Americans.
“Helping those generations (and others) cope with financial obligations and sources of stress can be good for business,” says Quinn Cohane, a SoFi marketing manager and benefits expert. “Wellness program benefits vary, but the best plans include much more than gym memberships, yoga classes, or the occasional lunchroom ping-pong tournament. Nutritional, social, and financial needs should also be part of the equation.”
Sources of Stress, and How to Diffuse Them
Of the 1,501 workers polled for APA’s Survey, 33% indicated that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.
What’s ailing them? Low salaries were cited most often, with 50% of respondents calling this factor a “very significant” or “somewhat significant” source of stress. Rounding out the top five factors were lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (43%), too heavy a workload (41%), unrealistic job expectations (40%), and long hours (40%).
HR managers can provide some stress relief by instituting health and wellness programs. As you can see below, creative ideas aren’t hard to find.
Recently the APA honored six companies for developing creative programs that help workers stay healthy and engaged on the job. Of the six, three really stand out: At San Jorge Children’s Hospital, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, employees can opt to work 10 months out of the year and have their salaries prorated, so that paychecks arrive all year long—even when they’re off;Moore Communications Group in Tallahassee, Florida, pays bonuses to interns and provides mentoring to help junior team members grow in their careers; and Certified Angus Beef in Wooster, Ohio, offers employees regular health assessments, an onsite psychologist, and a wellness coach.
As a result of these programs, turnover at all six companies is less than one-third of the national average.
Here are some other ways to round out your health and wellness program:
1. Ditch the sit-down meetings.
We’ve all heard that exercise relieves stress, yet long hours can make it tough for employees to get in a workout. The solution? Make it easy to work out while working. Ask managers to hold regular walking meetings. Whether it’s a loop around the water cooler or a quick trip to the local coffee bar doesn’t matter; just commit to getting teams moving. Your staff will still hit all the agenda items—they’ll just do it on the go instead of around a conference room table.
2. Provide student loan debt relief
Depending on your location, housing costs can be high, so talented young workers with student debt have good reason to complain about low pay. They need either a great salary or the stomach to live on a steady diet of ramen just to make ends meet—unless you’re able to offer some other form of relief. Help them out by making regular contributions to their student loan payments with programs like SoFi at Work. “With a student loan contribution benefit, you can help employees deal with a major financial burden without committing to an unreasonably high salary for a junior employee, “says Cohane.
3. Repeat after us: “Om”
A few minutes away from the desk can help workers recharge and ease what feels like too heavy a workload. Options are practically endless, but the Mayo Clinic recommends meditation breaks for reducing anxiety at work. Best of all, it doesn’t have to cost anything to get employees in the habit.
“Instead of hiring a mindfulness coach, institute a 5-minute meditation break every afternoon, or encourage employees to download mindfulness apps that teach relaxation and focus,” Cohane says.
4. Keep the fridge stocked with healthy snacks.
Fast food joints offer easy choices for stressed workers. According to the APA’s report, 39 percent of workers polled reported “overeating or eating unhealthy foods” due to anxiety. Your employees probably know the pattern: Work 12 hours, hit the drive-thru, and go to bed feeling terrible.
Lend a hand by making it easier to eat healthy at work. “Make fruits, veggies, and grab-and-go nutritious snacks available in the lunchroom and break areas,” advises Cohane. “Also, make sure there’s plenty of water on hand. You don’t want your team mainlining caffeine all day without ever properly hydrating.”
5. Recognize good work—immediately
No employee wants to guess when it comes to performance rating and long-term value, but some are put in that position. Only 53% of employees polled for APA’s survey indicated they feel valued by their employer. No wonder a lack of growth opportunities and unrealistic job expectations are top sources of stress!
Set up a formal recognition and rewards program whereby executives honor and reward good work wherever they spot it. “Formal doesn’t have to mean structured,” says Cohane. “Giving managers a stockpile of thank you cards to distribute to deserving employees could be just as effective as holding regular companywide meetings or handing out gift cards.”
6. Have your employees’ backs
Whatever approach you take in striving for employee wellness, get your company’s leaders involved. Results of the APA’s survey show that 73% of employees with senior managers who show support of well-being programs say their company promotes a healthy lifestyle, compared with just 11% who lack similar leadership support.
In other words: Being your employees’ health-focused wingman matters.
“Employees need to feel comfortable speaking to their managers or HR about the things that may be stressing them out,” Cohane says. “Be willing to help with anything, because stress is just as likely to be caused by off-duty problems as on-the-job headaches, especially for younger workers”
Recognizing the truth in the lyrics of Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out” and responding with meaningful stress relievers can make the difference between keeping your best young workers and losing them to competitors. Learn the many ways SoFi at Work can help.