Stress is present in almost everyone’s lives today, particularly with the cloud of an unstable economy hanging over the country. Not surprisingly, work is one of the top things that cause people stress.
The problem doesn’t end there. Stress can affect more than our mindset and our mood — it can affect our health. The Wellness Council of America reports that 70 percent of workers say job stress causes frequent health problems. The good news is there are many fun ways employers can help their employees beat stress at work and stay healthy.
“Stress can manifest itself in many ways including obsessive (behavior), excessive worrying, making simple mistakes — such as forgetting to write a check in the register — appetite loss, muscle tension, upset stomach and headaches,” says Dr. Paul Berkowitz, a psychiatrist at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa.
He adds that stress can also weaken the immune system, putting people at a higher risk for catching the common cold.
Dr. Bob Orford, who specializes in preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, adds that stress can also result in depression, high-blood pressure, sleep deprivation, hypertension and even obesity, because people often eat as a way to relieve stress.
Orford offers many ways employers can help their employees fend off stress and increase productivity in the workplace.
“They should allow several mini-breaks for their employees throughout the day — two or three times an hour — to stand up, stretch or simply walk around,” he says. “Productivity can be increased (as a result of) those mini-breaks. “Exercise is the single best way to relieve stress,” he adds.
Orford suggests that anything an employer can do to encourage employees to exercise can help them reduce their stress.
“They can offer incentives such as a contribution for a health club, which Mayo Clinic does, or distributing pedometers and giving a bonus or discount on a health care premium if they walk a certain number of steps,” he says.
Berkowitz adds that companies should also help their employees balance work and life — thus helping relieve their stress — by working with them in areas such as shift scheduling, if at all possible. He suggests employers can offer the option to come in early or work later hours, depending on the employee’s preference. He also suggests perks such as bringing in a corporate massage therapist or encouraging employees to take a yoga class.
In fact, massages can have overwhelmingly positive results in the workplace. In a study performed by the Touch Research Institute in Miami, massaged subjects showed decreased frontal EEG alpha and beta waves and increased delta activity consistent with enhanced alertness; math problems were completed in significantly less time with significantly fewer errors after the massage; and anxiety, cortisol (the stress hormone) and job-stress levels were lower at the end of a five-week period.
“As more and more is expected of workers during these difficult times, maintaining good health is essential in the workplace. Even the smallest employee incentives make a big difference,” says Tiffany Richards, founder of The Back Rub Company in Phoenix. “These affordable programs — like a 15-minute chair massage — are some of the only things that employees look forward to, especially when everyone is over-stressed and worried.”
The Back Rub Company offers on-site wellness services, including chair massages, fitness classes, “lunch and learn” wellness workshops, guided meditation, hypnotherapy sessions and even healthy cooking classes.
Massage Makers offers corporate chair massages and on-site table massages, as well as the unique Body Mechanics program, which addresses repeated physical problems people suffer as a result of how they sit or stand continually at work. Owner Andrea “Andy” Sobczak believes that massages benefit employees by helping relax their muscles and get blood flowing, and also by providing a mental booster.
“It shows employees that (employers) are invested in them, and it gives employees a sense of value,” she says.
Sobczak adds that the human touch also makes people feel like they are important.“People are deprived of human touch … they need to feel special and taken care of,” she says. “It makes people feel good.”
Yoga is another positive stress reliever that employers can offer their employees. Danielle Price Catalfio started StudiYo of Scottsdale after working in Corporate America and realizing how stressful it can be, particularly in a down economy. She created the T.E.A.M. Yoga workshops, which stands for “the ego aware manager,” to help people “take the ego out of the workplace and see each other outside of their titles as human beings not humans doing.”
Catalfio’s two- to three-hour workshops include three main elements: a series of yoga techniques such as breathing and stretching to help people relax; the physical aspect, which helps people let go of thoughts and simply concentrate on holding yoga poses; and workplace stretches that can be done during mini-breaks. She also incorporates relational activities into the workshop that help build trust and camaraderie among co-workers.
Workplace wellness programs don’t just benefit employees. Statistics show these types of incentives actually have an economic return for employers. A report by the U.S. Surgeon General on Physical Activity and Health states that corporate wellness programs return $1.95 to $3.75 per employee, per dollar spent, and have a cumulative economic benefit of $500 to $700 per worker, per year. In addition, the American Journal of Health Promotions reports that for every $1 spent on wellness, employers can get up to $10 back through fewer medical claims, reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and other factors. Berkowitz says employers should look at workplace wellness incentives “as an investment to offset potential losses.”