Impending deadlines and expectations of being available and responsive 24/7, juggling the demands of work and home, an onslaught of bills and unexpected expenses–these are the kind of worries that keep piling up, causing stress to reach overwhelming proportions. It’s an epidemic we must address to improve population health and maintain a healthy, productive work environment.
Stress — particularly chronic stress — leads to a variety of health problems, including hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, headaches and mood swings. These issues may be exacerbated when employees change their behaviors in an attempt to manage stress-related symptoms. Those experiencing excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol, according to the American Psychological Association. This vicious cycle makes stress one of the top health concerns; 49 percent of individuals are at risk for stress-related illnesses, second only to weight, which impacts 69 percent.
Stress is taking a toll on more than just the individual; workplaces are also suffering. The more stressed an employee, the more days they miss from work. Stressed employees also are more likely to be unmotivated, quit their jobs, perform poorly and have low morale and higher incidence of illness and accidents.
Breaking the stress cycle
Employers are increasingly realizing the correlation between stress and workplace productivity. However the realities of creating a balance for employees, while simultaneously ensuring the delivery of quality work that’s completed on time, is much easier said than done.
While more than 70 percent of companies today have well-being programs to keep employees physically healthy, many are also implementing programs to promote mental well-being and reduce stress.
Anecdotally, though, we often hear that employees don’t feel they are benefiting from their corporate wellness plans because they don’t have time or they can’t break away from their desks.
Successful well-being programs need to address these perceptions, and it starts with leadership. Management and bosses play a key role in helping employees reduce stress. Not only are they responsible for communicating about available resources, they need to literally and figuratively walk the walk. When leadership incorporates stress management into their own lives, employees understand the company’s commitment to these practices and feel more comfortable taking a break from the wind and grind.
The role of technology
Some of the most effective well-being programs leverage a variety of technology that makes it easier for employees to engage and benefit, regardless of where they are or the time of day. Popular technology-based solutions include:
Digital health platforms – Connecting employees to health coaches, board-certified physicians, and colleagues who can provide support for those dealing with stress and offer guidance with chronic disease resulting from, or adding to, individuals’ stress levels.
Digital health games – Employees receive encouragement and rewards through fun, engaging games in which they compete against others in stress-busting exercise to reach health goals.
Wearables – Employees can sync popular wearable devices, such as their Apple Watch, to visualize the impact of guided meditations on their heart rate. Through smart feedback, employees can better understand which meditation exercises, locations, and times of day have the greatest impact on their heart rate, and therefore, stress level.
Virtual reality (VR) guided meditation – Combining an immersive VR with mindfulness meditation can help transport employees to relaxing environments, bringing a whole new dimension to the meditation experience. Using apps on their cell phones and portable VR headsets, employees are able to practice meditation from any place, at any time.
Long-term stress can have significant health consequences for your employees, contributing to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, anxiety, insomnia and cancer; and negatively impact their performance at work. Employing effective stress management programs and techniques in the workplace can help improve productivity while enhancing employee health by soothing anxiety; boosting the immune system; increasing focus, memory and thinking skills; improving sleep; and supporting weight management.
Alex Goldberg was CEO and founder of Provata Health (recently acquired by StayWell), one of the 50 fastest growing healthcare companies in the U.S. Alex is a visionary leader and inventor, creating multiple patents in the digital health space, including a patent-pending virtual reality system with biofeedback to measure the effects of meditation on physiological functions.