It may be no surprise that a company’s values and its corporate culture can have a huge impact on the level of stress of its employees.
But the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program has provided some great examples of this theory in action.
The APA awarded its 2013 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards to four companies who demonstrated, through their programs and culture, that they valued their employees.
The result of their efforts: The four winning companies (three of which, coincidentally or not, were located on the lush islands of Hawaii and Puerto Rico), had almost half the average rate of employees reporting chronic work stress—19 percent compared to the national average of 35 percent. Their employees were also less likely to want to find a new job and had much greater employee satisfaction.
The companies in turn had a starkly lower rate of turnover—only 6 percent—compared to the national average of 38 percent.
“All of these companies took a comprehensive approach. They weren’t looking for a quick fix,” said David Ballard, assistant executive director for organizational excellence, at the APA. Many companies offer some sort of stress reduction program like yoga, employee assistance programs and mental health benefits, but these programs go a step further to tackle some of the causes of workplace stress, such as lack of autonomy and control, feeling under-recognized and appreciated, rigid schedules, too many demands and not enough resources.
The four companies address several areas that affect an employee’s level of stress, including employee involvement and recognition, employee growth and development, health and safety and work-life balance.
All the winners offered desirable wellness programs, which include full health insurance benefits as well as various programs that provide or reimburse for physical fitness and mental wellness activities.
But they don’t stop there. They address the root causes of workplace stress. Here are some examples:
Work-Life Balance: The architectural and engineering firm of Bowers + Kubota Consulting, based in Hawaii, offers flex time and telecommuting. Employees are able to bring their children to work and take leave when necessary. The firm offers paid time off instead of “sick leave” and encourages employees to use it, when needed, to recharge. Employees can also earn one extra day of PTO for doing community service.
Employee Recognition: Bowers + Kubota also tries to recognize employees for their work. The firm presents occasional on-the-spot bonuses to employees who go above and beyond expectations. When the company does well, it pays bonuses twice a year in addition to its 401K matching, profit-sharing program and cost-of-living raises. It also treats employees to a birthday lunch at a restaurant of their choice, which is attended by their current work team and supervisors.
Employee Involvement: Each year, prior to their annual retreat, staff at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center’s Cancer Care Management Department in Delaware, respond to an employee survey that covers issues related to leadership, team effectiveness, communication and work satisfaction. Retreat organizers then choose topics and exercises based directly on the survey responses. Most employees are included in all decisions, changes and initiatives related to their respective departments.
Employee Growth and Development: At Triple-S, the leading managed-care organization in Puerto Rico, employees can take part in a Leadership Development Academy, which includes courses on leadership, emotional intelligence, time management, conflict resolution, ethics, strategic planning and process improvement. This gives them tools and resources to better manage their demands.
Unless you are high in the ranks, you may not be able to shift your company’s culture or policies, but you may be able to take better advantage of the stress-reducing benefits your company offers.
According to another APA survey just released, only 37 percent of women reported regularly using employee benefits designed to help them meet demands outside the office, while 46 percent of men did. Only 38 percent of women and 42 percent of men said they regularly use flex time.
“We know that work-life conflict does cause stress, so when you can reduce that conflict by having more flexibly to help you meet those competing demands, that can help you reduce stress,” Ballard said.
Likewise, try to take advantage of the health, fitness, stress management and other wellness offerings. According to Ballard, only 36 percent of employees say they participate in their companies’ health and wellness programs.
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.