Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

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Creating SUSTAINABLE Behavioral Change Part 5

by James Porter February 11, 2022

Want to know why employees DO participate in your wellness programs? Read this…

In the first four installments I talked about a behavioral change program I attended at an American Journal of Health Promotion Conference (AJHP) with Michael Kim, CEO for HABIT CHANGE, a company that helps employees make healthy lifestyle changes. In the previous installment I shared a list of 7 reasons why employees DON’T participate in wellness programs. In this installment we’ll look at 10 reasons why people DO participate in wellness programs. In each case, we look at how these reasons relate to stress and/or stress management.

According to a report that was published before the pandemic in The Economist here are the top ten reasons why people DO participate in wellness programs. It’s when these programs allow for or create:

  1. More flexible work schedules (48%)
  2. Healthier food options in the cafeteria and break rooms (37%)
  3. Stress management programs (36%)
  4. Group activities and competitions (28%)
  5. Greater emphasis on ergonomics (22%)
  6. Participation by top executives & business unit leaders (20%)
  7. Better integration of individual and company goals (17%)
  8. Guided Yoga and Meditation classes (18%)
  9. Financial Counseling (15%)
  10. Appointment of “wellness champions” (14%)

Obviously reasons 3 and 8 are about helping people lower stress. However ALL of the other reasons why people participate in wellness programs ALSO result in a lowering of stress AND that may be a central part of their attraction. Allow me to explain:

1. More flexible work schedules. Having a sense of control over what you do at work is a key to lowering stress. And giving workers the flexibility to create their OWN schedules can go a long way toward achieving this objective. (To some extent remote work addresses this problem, but not always.) There was a study done at Microsoft years ago of employees who were, for the most part, working unbelievably long hours (12-16 hour days). But few if any of these workers seemed to be suffering from the deleterious effects of over-work (like job stress and burnout) that one would expect to see in people putting in such long hours. The study concluded that a key factor in lowering their stress was giving these workers TOTAL control over when and where they put in those hours. They could come and go when they wanted and even work at home (which was highly unusual at the time) as long as the work got done. That added sense of control was the difference between having a stressed-out, non-productive workforce and one that was resilient and high motivated.

2. Healthier food options in the cafeteria and break rooms. We need to approach the subject of stress management from a more holistic view: If a worker comes back from lunch feeling bloated and weighed down from having had a burger, fries and a milkshake for lunch, chances are at some point in the afternoon that worker is going to feel tired and drained. If some other issue arises – like an unexpected conflict with a coworker – he or she simply won’t be able to handle it as well as they would if they had had more energy.  In the future stress management is going to be all about energy management and in that respect, providing healthier food options in the cafeteria (and possibly even PAYING for those options) would give workers more energy (that they would bring back to the job) and bring us into the future of health care RIGHT now.

3. Stress Management Programs. Obviously, from my perspective this makes perfect sense. Whenever I talk to clients, and whenever people come by my booth at conferences the thing I hear over and over again, is that stress is ALWAYS among the top things that people want help with from their wellness programs. Usually it’s number 1.  All the research tells us this (The Economist, Towers Watson, Gallop, etc.) and employees will tell you the same thing if you just take the time to listen to what they actually want from their wellness programs. My clients tell me over and over again that when they give employees help with their stress, employees truly appreciate it.

  1. Group activities and competitions. Group activities means greater social support (step 6 in my six step stress PREVENTION model) and competition might be an example of good stress or what stress expert Hans Selye named “eustress.” If these activities engender more support among co-workers and a sense of camaraderie, then by their very nature they are going to lower stress.  (Remember, for some people competitions and challenges are a definite turn off. Here again, the reminder that everyone experiences stress differently explains the difference of opinion: Some people love roller coasters and other people hate them.)

  2. Greater emphasis on ergonomics is a stress-related environmental issue. Noise, poor lighting, over-crowding and interruptions are all environmental sources of stress that need to be addressed with “ergonomic” solutions.
  3. Participation by top executives and business unit leaders is why I’m always preaching “Teach Stress Management to the Management.” Get them on board with some of the many benefits of managing stress including improved concentration, increased vitality and enhanced productivity. Once interest and support for managing stress comes from the top down, research tells us, change starts to happen much more quickly.  

  4. Better integration of individual and company goals. Try doing an anonymous survey or questionnaire (or even exit interviews) to find out what people find stressful about working for your company. If you can eliminate some of the red tape or bureaucratic procedures (or possibly identify a toxic boss), you will not only be seen as a HERO you will begin to achieve better integration of individual and company goals. Remember, employees want to lower their stress THEIR WAY. And employees want to improve their health THEIR WAY. Your job is figuring out what their way is. Surveys and questionnaires, not to mention our stress assessment THE STRESS PROFILER, can all help you do this. We also offer a free Employee Stress, Engagement & Satisfaction Survey that you can distribute to your employees.
  5. Guided Yoga and Meditation classes. Here’s a good example of exactly what their way MIGHT be. Meditation and yoga won’t be what everyone wants but more and more people are motivated to engage in these activities, especially when provided by the employer. Broadening the scope of any stress management offering – or just having a short stress management lesson at the start of a yoga or meditation class – will help your program appeal to more participants. Stay tuned for more information about our Mindful Movement Program.

  6. Financial Counseling. Job stress and financial stress are always vying for the number 1 and number 2 sources of stress in the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey. When companies sign up for our online stress assessment tool, THE STRESS PROFILER or or webplatform, My Stress Tools, employees can quickly test their levels of stress in ten different areas of their lives from how much change they might be going through to how much financial stress they are under, they often find – as the result of aggregate data that we can supply them – that financial stress is right there at the top. One of our clients won THE PSYCHOLOGICALLY HEALTHY WORKPLACE AWARD partially as the result of using our online Profiler and giving people extra help in the areas where they most needed it like financial stress.

  7. Appointment of “wellness champions.” I seek out the stress management champions in the room whenever I go out to a client to do a program on stress. I ask my audience: Does anyone meditate, practice yoga or exercise on a regular basis? There are always a few hands that go up for each category. Then I ask the individuals who have raised their hands: “Would you ever go back to NOT doing yoga, exercising or meditating?” They always nod their head no. I then ask them “Why not?” The answers that you get here are fabulous testimonials for each activity and serve to identify these people (peers of everyone in the room) as STRESS MANAGEMENT champions.

    In my next installment I’ll talk about Prochaska’s stages of change and some other basic elements of behavioral change. In parts 7-14 we are going to rock your world. That’s when we will talk about the work of BJ Fogg. Fogg, a Stanford psychologist and behavioral change guru, gives us a brand new, counter-intuitive look at behavior change that DOESN’T rely so much on motivation and seeks instead to make the behavioral change so easy, it’s impossible to fail.

James Porter
James Porter