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By: Ber Leary on April 28th, 2022

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How to Help Your Employees Stay Cool in a Stressful World

Best Practices | Organizational culture

When you turn on the TV or check social media these days, it seems filled with nothing but bad news. Sometimes I can feel these current events linger in the back of my mind while I'm trying to work, and it will shift my mood for the day. And I thought, if that is happening to me and I'm not directly impacted, it's likely happening to other team members and perhaps on even more varying levels.

So I reached out to my colleagues and wellbeing experts, Doreen Davis, Senior Vice President Well-Being and Engagement, Atlantic Region, and Sarah Berkley, Manager, Well-Being & Engagement, Northeast Region at NFP, a leading insurance broker and consultant. They were kind enough to share their thoughts on how HR and business leaders can support their employees during challenging times, such as the war in Ukraine.

"Turmoil and difficult things going on in the world affect our mental health and wellbeing at work, "says Berkley. "Whether it's a stressful election cycle, a global pandemic, social unrest, or a war in Europe, these big things can weigh heavily on individuals, in addition to whatever is happening within their own lives."

Even if these events do not directly impact you, they can still lead to what researchers call Headline Stress Disorder. People who experience this disorder can feel overwhelmed by world events—to the point where it impacts their lives and their work.

And that then becomes a problem for management.

What can managers do about external stressors?

Lots of things can cause people stress, including:

  • Work-related issues: Stress factors that relate directly to the person's job, such as overwork, burnout, or conflict with colleagues
  • Personal concerns: Stressful life events, such as illness, financial worries, or family problems
  • Social factors: Stress that comes from our environment, which can include concerns related to world events, plus things like discrimination, crime, and the environment

The temptation is to focus only on work-related stressors, as these are things you can directly control. And this is essential, as work-related stress affects roughly three in five employees.

But stress of any kind can impair your employees' ability to deliver. Stressed employees will display lower engagement, higher absenteeism, and increased staff turnover.

You can't influence world events, of course. However, you can take action to help employees manage all forms of stress, including the kind that comes from living in an uncertain world.

Five ways to help employees deal with stress

When tackling work-related stress, you have to listen to your employees and offer the right kind of support. The same is true of stress related to broader social factors. Doreen Davis and Sarah Berkley from NFP offer advice on how leaders can help:

1. Recognize what's happening in the world

You can't simply shut the door on the outside world. Events can have a tangible, real-world impact on people who might be struggling with questions like:

  • Is my family safe?
  • Is my job going to be secure?
  • Do I need to change my plans for the future?

"Leaders should communicate openly about these stressful events and how it affects them and others at all levels," says Berkley. "Allow opportunities for employees to discuss their feelings about what's going on through support groups, employee resource groups, and within their teams,."

2. Encourage people to utilize your EAP

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are the backbone of your mental wellbeing support structure. "Creatively promote existing resources like the EAP," says Davis. "These often-underutilized programs offer access to mental health counselors, typically free of charge to the employee for the first few sessions."

"Additionally, be sure to explore all of the resources available through the EAP such as training to support employees and managers in dealing with mental health issues."

Some EAP providers may provide other resources that you can use to protect employee wellbeing. These resources can include mental health guides for employees, and manager training to help identify and prevent stress-related burnout. Talk to your EAP provider and make sure you're leveraging all of your benefits.

3. Promote other wellness and wellbeing resources

Employees may have access to mental health-related benefits that they don't even know about. For example, some health insurance providers offer access to wellness and mindfulness apps that can help people manage stress. Other providers may offer a text message support service that allows people to connect with a counselor.

"Medical carriers and other carriers often offer meditation or mindfulness apps," says Berkley, "as well as apps to text with a mental health counselor. Be sure these benefits are easily accessible, so employees and managers know how to access these services when they need them."

Employees don't always read the documentation for their benefits, so they may not even realize they have access to such services. Consider creating a Mental Health Resource Hub—an internal directory of benefits and services that people can use to care for themselves.

4. Implement Mental Health First Aid training

Most offices train people to administer first aid and CPR in case of on-site health emergencies. But what happens when there's a mental health emergency? Mental Health First Aid is an initiative that teaches people how to assess and support co-workers who might be going through a tough time.

"Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training has become extremely popular over the last few years," Davis says."MHFA is a public education program that teaches participants how to recognize and respond to the signs of a mental health challenge. This can be particularly useful for managers and other mid-level leaders within the organization to help them spot burnout and other mental health issues and, importantly, know how to respond to ensure that appropriate professional help is received. It elevates the manager from boss to coach and provides support for employees who may be struggling."

Mental Health First Aid training for managers gives leaders the tools to combat employee stress, whether that stress is related to internal or external events. This makes it easier to prevent burnout and helps people stay productive during challenging times.

5. Be a force for positive change

When people get overwhelmed by world events, they feel helpless and isolated, creating a real opportunity for employers to intervene. When your organization takes an interest in a cause, your team members will be able to take positive actions. These initiatives make them feel empowered, connected, and more optimistic about the future.

Berkley adds, "Many people feel helpless and would love to have a way to help those suffering in Ukraine and other areas that are experiencing hardship. In addition, these team-based initiatives foster a sense of connection and belonging which is so important to overall mental health."

You can do simple things such as organizing fundraisers, offering volunteer days, and inviting non-profit groups to speak to the team. It's also a good idea to reach out to your team and ask for their ideas on social and community initiatives. When you all work together, you can be a positive force in the world.

Going further with employee mental health

Stress, anxiety, and burnout are major concerns for every employer. That's why it’s best to be proactive and work towards an environment where everyone feels supported.

Some of the next-level actions you can take include:

  • Setting the target of becoming a Mentally Strong Organization, where employee wellbeing is one of your key strategic goals
  • Hosting wellness seminars and inviting speakers to offer advice on resilience and mindfulness
  • Offering mental health breaks to employees who need them
  • Giving employees space to discuss what’s on their minds, both in a one-to-one with managers and in a group forum setting

Want to talk more about building a resilient team? Book a no-obligation consultation call with Helios Hr today, and find out how we can help your team thrive.


Thanks to Doreen Davis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and Sarah Berkley, MPH, CHES from NFP for contributing to this article.