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Stress-busters for work

Friday, April 17, 2009

EVERYONE would love to love work, although work is mostly not fun and games. Here are 10 ideas for lowering the stress levels of your staff - especially useful when you're facing hard times at work.

"It's important that organisations support their employees in finding ways to reduce stress, as this does impact upon factors such as productivity and performance in the workplace," says Craig Donaldson, LexisNexis Media.

"It's in the employers' own best interest to encourage their workforce to exercise, take time out for sport, eat well (and not through their lunch breaks at their desks) and find a healthy balance between their work and personal lives.

"At a time when companies are looking to do more with less, high levels of stress can have a significant and negative impact on the ability of employees to perform at peak levels," says Mr Donaldson.

According to Medibank-commissioned research, healthy employees are three times more productive than unhealthy employees.

A major cause of stress: job insecurity

The Victoria Health Authority has warned that job security - or more accurately, job insecurity - is one of the worst stress-makers for employees.

In the current financial climate, which brings almost universal stress, it is more important than ever to find ways to help reduce stress in the workplace.

Here are 10 tips to get you started:

1. Short breaks

Encourage employees to take a five-minute break in the morning and afternoon, ideally they will stretch their legs with a short walk, which not only gives them time out, it also gets the blood flowing.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine states that one of the most effective ways to promote health, prevent disease and improve quality if life is to make health-promoting behaviours a part of people's everyday routines.

2. Treat your body well

While it's not your role to act like a parent, you can lead by example health-wise, and perhaps offer information on how your employees can eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and reduce coffee intake.

Stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes actually increase stress levels.

You might also consider providing a daily fruit basket to promote healthy snacking - and demonstrate that you're interested in helping your employees lead healthier lives.

The Australian Workers Health Centre warns that workers exposed to stress may experience adverse physical and psychological symptoms such as headaches, sleeping difficulties, poor memory and weight loss.

3. Stress Management seminars

"A counsellor or facilitator offers an objective way to look at an issue or problem during group or individual supervision, often using a solution focused approach," says Jo-Anne Baker, Clinical Psychologist.

"A helpful way to alleviate stress in the workplace is in regular meeting where the focus is on everyone speaking about the positive/negative aspects of projects or business interactions," advises Ms Baker.

4. Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises

You don't need to pay for classes to introduce your workers to the benefits of Eastern relaxation and wellbeing practices - there are plenty of practitioners who will visit your workplace for gentle group sessions.

Ask your employees which practices they're interested in, then engage the enthusiasts to organise sessions during break periods and promote them as a company benefit.

Abdominal breathing is an excellent tool to stimulate the relaxation response that results in less tension and an overall sense of well-being explains Ms Baker.

5. Fix the environment with ergonomics

"Make whatever adjustments you need to the lighting, temperature, noise level and other controllable factors in your office.

Bad lighting and a noisy office can inflate stress levels," says Rick Clancy, AUZspec Enterprises, a company specialising in workplace ergonomics.

Ergonomics is the discipline of matching the worker with the most appropriate operating techniques and equipment to improve well-being and overall performance.

"Ensure your staff understand how to operate any equipment they are supplied in order to get the maximum benefit.

"There is no substitute in the workplace for happy and healthy staff," says Mr Clancy.

6. Mentoring

"Mentors can be highly effective in reducing stress experienced by junior staff. Not only do they give career guidance, they can also provide psychosocial support based on their own experience of stressful situations.

"They can discuss the anxieties and concerns of their mentorees, talking through work problems, helping to build individual self-confidence in what may seem to be an unsettling and perplexing business climate," explains Alan Price, Managing Editor, HRM Guide and author of Human Resource Manage-ment in a Business Context.

7. Sporting activities

Enjoying sports, from golf to cycling to tennis, can be a fun way to get exercise and relieve stress, providing endorphins and a social outlet.

Team activities are also a great way to enhance working relations. Sponsor a company sporting team, such as netball, soccer, and rugby.

Not only will you improve employee health, your company can also benefit from low-cost brand promotion.

The Australian Workers Health Centre provides information on how exercise and maintaining physical fitness can reduce the severity of our response to stressful events.

8. Back massages

Workplace massage services remain one of the more popular stress-releasers for businesses large and small because they're easy to organise, affordable and time-efficient.

Consider offering complimentary 10-minute neck-and-shoulder or back massages every week/couple of weeks.

Massage is well regarded for physically reducing stress and relaxing employees, with strong company benefits.

9. Music in the workplace

According to the Australian Music Therapy Association music is a great stress reliever and contributor to wellbeing, to the point that it's being used in hospitals.

As a stress reliever, it provides distraction, inspiration, can speed you up or calm you down.

You could take suggestions from employees and share music, find out what they want and perhaps include the creation of playlists as a team building exercise.

10. Laughter classes

Some companies take a novel and creative method to reducing stress, boosting morale and improving productivity in the workplace: laughter classes.

Employees sent to laughter class learn to laugh for no reason and have plenty of fun. After all laughter is the best medicine.


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