With the holidays in our rearview mirror, benefits managers may believe the most stressful and anxiety-inducing period for their company is behind them — not to be seen for another 12 months.
But, increasingly, the savvy benefits manager is realizing that stress isn’t just a byproduct of gift giving, increased family time and other obligations brought on by the holiday season. Instead, employee stress — and the resulting toll on productivity — manifests itself throughout the calendar.
To ensure an emotionally healthy and resilient workforce, benefits managers should use January to harness the increased attention and focus on wellness into a year-long plan. By creating a plan to address stress throughout the year, you will provide staff with the resources, benefits and plans to minimize the effects of stress and anxiety when it resurfaces later in the year.
The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses up to $300 billion annually. In recent years, companies have realized that emotional health impacts the performance of their organization and they’ve taken steps to address it.
According to Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health’s most recent survey, 87 percent of employers offer emotional or mental health programs.
While the percentage of employers offering such plans is an encouraging sign, the challenge for managers is to keep employee plan engagement and activity high throughout the calendar. These programs likely saw spikes in December and through January, but will quickly be forgotten in a month even, despite an ongoing need.
In our work with Fortune 500 companies, national health care providers and more than three million individuals, we’ve found five additional points throughout the calendar year when benefits and HR managers should plan for:
January: We know the holidays can cause anxiety, but even with the pressure and stress, they produce happiness and joy. The downside? When employees return to work, morale can be low. The days are short, there are no holidays on the horizon, and the weather is bad. All of these factors lead to sagging employee well-being in January.
April: Money is an inherently stressful topic, so when a company’s population has their mind on money during tax season, stress will be magnified. In addition, tax season is especially stressful on the accounting and finance teams who put in longer hours, are under extra pressure and may feel more isolated from friends, family and coworkers during this period.
July: Ah, summer. A time to relax, enjoy the beach, cookouts and time outdoors. While summer may bring us a number of happy moments, we’ve found that it creates hidden stress and anxiety in the workplace.
A summer vacation may be a much needed chance to recharge, but when people are out of the office, the work goes on and coworkers feel the burden of picking up slack. Benefits managers need to be aware of the increased workload and expectations of their staff due to vacation to ensure the benefits of a vacation are not negated by the stress of doing extra work.
September: As the calendar moves past Labor Day, many employees are hit with a wave of stress or seasonal depression. Employees with children face anxiety in sending their children off to school for the year. Those without children may feel depressed with the changing of the seasons; gone are the fun and restful days of summer. Now, many become more mentally connected to work and thus potentially more anxious and stressed.
October: At the three-quarter pole mark of the year, many companies realize time is running short and begin a push to wrap-up work and projects before the calendar year. The combination of dwindling time with increased pressure to complete jobs creates a pressure that taxes some employees.
Additionally, many management level staff are in the throes of budget planning. Like with tax season, financial decisions carry inherent stress that taxes employees across the company.
Now that you’ve identified stress inflection points throughout the year, here are some immediate steps to encourage continuous engagement in emotional wellness plans:
Organize in-person activities
Events like guest speakers who specialize in emotional wellness can create reminders for employees to check in on their stress levels ahead of peak times.
For employees at the location of the speaker, the in-person component creates a happiness-boosting change of routine. For employees at remote offices, a break to watch a livestream can help them reset.
Leverage digital tools
Each employee responds to stressors in their own way. Some might be stressed in the evening, some might feel it in the morning. Digital tool in a wellness plan allow employees can address their needs when it’s most convenient for them.
Measure your progress at regular intervals
From a manager perspective, digital tools allow organizations to easily measure outcomes and keep an eye on the aggregate well-being of the workforce.
By continuously monitoring the population health, you can iterate and adjust based on the unique characteristics of your workforce.