Helping your employees deal with stress

Interior designers often work under considerable stress to meet deadlines, stay on budget, manage vendors and suppliers, and please their bosses as well as their clients. Not all stress is bad, and not all workplace stress can be eliminated.

Nonetheless, high levels of stress can lead to mental and physical health problems, increase tardiness and absenteeism, and reduce employee creativity, productivity, accuracy and safety. Helping employees cope with stress benefits the firm as much as them.

Employees today encounter many stressors. Broadly speaking, though, they regularly are dealing with three types: work stress, work/life balance stress and financial stress.

The physical work environment can play a large role in employee stress if there is a lot of unwanted noise and visual distractions, poor lighting and air quality, and a lack of access to daylight and nature views.

I’m assuming that since yours is an interior design or A&D firm, you already provide your employees with a healthy, supportive and attractive work environment. Other ways you can help alleviate work stress is by encouraging employees to take breaks (and hydrate) and to socialize periodically throughout the day.

One of the biggest stressors in the workplace is poor communication. Provide frequent updates and feedback so employees have a clear sense of what is expected of them and how they are measuring up. If yours is a larger firm, offer employees space or incentives to exercise regularly, healthy meals and snacks, and quiet spaces for work that requires high levels of concentration and reflection.

Because the line between work and private life has become so blurred, employees frequently struggle with how to balance their work obligations, family and social commitments, and personal time. Offering flexible working hours and personal leave time can help, as can setting limits on the amount of time spent on work outside the office, especially on days off.

Acknowledging extraordinary demands, such as the birth of a child, loss of a loved one, a divorce or separation from a partner, severe injury of illness in the family, caregiving responsibilities and the like can also make those difficult times less stressful for employees. Information and/or access to coaching or counseling services also can be highly beneficial.

Finally, the events of the past decade or so have made employees anxious about their careers, their finances and their futures. A majority of college graduates are carrying a substantial amount of student loans and other debts. Rents and home prices, not to mention healthcare costs, are escalating many times faster than incomes.

Employees today are almost solely responsible for planning and saving for their retirement, with little hope that Social Security will be there for them by the time they reach retirement age. Whatever security they may have in their personal savings or investments is being chipped away through financial and consumer protection deregulation.

In addition, today’s benefits offerings can be complicated and confusing. Employees, for example, report being stressed over which healthcare plan or retirement fund to choose, as their choice affects their current salary as well as their longer-term well-being.

Some firms are seeking to address these issues by offering financial wellness programs or debt counseling services, retirement planning services, student loan debt payment assistance and help with understanding and choosing employee benefit options.

You don’t have to invest a lot of money or make large gestures to help alleviate employee stress. Creating a work culture and environment that demonstrates they are valued and respected as individuals as well as part of a team will go a long way toward reassuring employees that when issues do arise the firm’s management and leadership are there to support, not rebuke, them.

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