383 employees reveal their top 9 stress busters (forget EAP&HR)

Lunchtime Walk 2

As I have shared recently, the CSIRO has nominated ‘rising work stress and mental health issues’ as one of the TOP 6 MEGATRENDS in the next 20 years. Understanding the current situation is the best way to prepare to address this growing issue.

In a recent survey of 383 employees I conducted, only 57% believed that their job stress was manageable, and only 21% believed that the financial cost of mental ill-health in their workplace is known. This is in spite of 91% of employees believing that a mentally healthy workplace is important, and yet only 52% believe that their workplace is mentally healthy (beyondblue 2018).

This highlights the importance of leadership teams knowing the current cost of mental ill-health in their organisation – and knowing how to reduce it. Included in this calculation are workers compensation premiums, absenteeism, presenteeism, stress claims, and voluntary turnover. Knowing and monitoring the size of the problem is the first step to reducing it.

When we asked 383 employees what was the most effective for addressing harmful work stress, these were their answers:

Other strategies mentioned
  • Meditation and mindfulness practice
  • Listening to encouraging and helpful podcasts helps me a lot.
  • Going away from work for a lunch break – fresh air, change of scenery
  • Utilising a business coach who is also a psychologist
  • Generally taking better care of myself, eating well and drinking less alcohol
  • Taking unpaid leave
  • Speak with my own mental health professional
  • We have yoga and meditation at 1:30, so we gather for our lunch hour to bring peace into our lives. Having a variable work schedule. I work 10:30-7:30 so I can take a nature walk, go to gym, take a yoga class before work to create a calm, peaceful start to my day.
Worrying comments
  • The message of what is really happening at the employee level gets filtered as it goes further up the management line.
  • HR is the enemy
  • I have been at maximum capacity for over a year now with no let up, but was told at performance review that I need to fine tune my processes so I can take on more workload!!!!!
  • Increase in alcohol – useful for numbing and calming thoughts, not useful from a health perspective.
Implications of findings

The top 3 stress busters – exercise more, take breaks during the day, and talking to a colleague are all relatively inexpensive problems to address. Many of the other stress options such as taking days off work, decreasing work hours, and looking for a new job have a costlier impact on productivity.


Leaders would be wise to consider how they can create a culture that improves wellbeing. Based on the findings above, the following actions should be considered.

  1. Increase exercise

After one of my workshops the CFO of a top 10 Australian company committed to run everyday at 1pm. Pretty soon after this, a number of people in his team felt comfortable to carve time into their day to walk, go to the gym, or run. Nothing speaks louder than a manager walking the talk about workplace wellbeing. Managers could also commit to having more walking meetings. Having a 30-minute brisk walk can fit into any work day (or before/after).

  1. Taking more breaks during the day

Research in Tony Schwartz’s book, the Power of Full Engagement shows that we are most productive when we do concentrated work for 45 minutes and then take a break by doing something completely different. It is very easy to set a timer on your phone – and when the time is up – stand, go for a wander, or phone a friend. Leaders demonstrating this is followed by others.

  1. Improve the will and skill of all employees to have supportive conversations

Employees will only share they are struggling if they sense they won’t be unfairly judged. Quite often solutions can be found to a problem when they are shared with a trusted colleague. R U OK? has some great new workplace resources to help people have more authentic and supportive conversations. They can be found here.

We have also developed the FactorC app – your mental health leadership mentor…..as close as your phone. Over the next 3 months we will be doing pilots with 5 organisations.

More information: www.factorc.com.au

4. Why is EAP not considered an effective stress buster by 66% of employees?

Many organisations proudly claim that their Employee Assistance Program is their primary strategy to assist employees who are struggling. Theoretically, the opportunity for a distressed employee to speak anonymously and for free to a trained counsellor should be very positive, the fact that only one in three employees consider it effective is worrying. Anecdotally you hear a number of reasons why this could be the case.  These include, it is far too reactive, the quality of the counsellors is very variable, and because it is anonymous, it is very hard to access robust feedback. Companies should seek to understand why it is not considered effective, and demand more from this service.

Mental wellbeing is everyone’s business.

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