Four workplace strategies to reduce employee stress

Stress is embedded in many corporate cultures - but it needn’t be in yours.

March 30, 2022

The talent shortage may be at its height, but there’s no shortage of stress for today’s talent. From global crises to the pressure of an always-on work culture, many knowledge workers have reached their tipping point. By reducing stress at work, employers can fend off the Great Resignation now—and inspire and sustain a happier, healthier and more engaged workforce in the long term, too.

Just how stressed are employees? A Gallup poll marked 2020 as the most stressful year in recent history, and then a record-breaking 47.4 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in 2021. Cumulative by nature, all that stress will continue to fester and grow until something disrupts the cycle. The good news is, the opposite is equally true: even one day with less friction and more positive experiences at work can create a positive, reinforcing loop.

While no employer can eradicate the mental health impacts of global events, organizational leaders can shape more positive human experiences in their own sphere of influence: the corporate workplace.

How to create a stress-resistant workplace

The physical workplace environment can play a vital role in thwarting employee stress and burnout. But ad-hoc bells and whistles alone won’t cut it, given the average workplace wellness program yields a mere 15% participation. Following are strategic workplace design considerations to help shape an intentional, deeply rooted culture of wellness.

  1. Recognize the power of a destination workplace. Amid COVID-19, employers learned that working from home, works—and many employees now crave the flexibility to work remotely. But the pandemic also cast new light on the value of in-person work, not just in terms of productivity, but on mental health, too.

    Beyond the fact that we are social creatures who benefit from human interaction, coming into a shared office gives people an unconscious roadmap for their day, as opposed to the constant pressure to self-organize that comes with working from home. A positive shared workplace environment can also stave off the many headaches of communicating everything virtually, whether sharing important business insights, or testing out a new joke.

  2. Make it purposeful. Every workplace tells a story about who and what the organization values from the moment employees step through the door. Through lobbies, offices, lounges, and every sign and amenity, the brand’s values should come to life. When the story is unclear, the workplace can be hard or stressful to navigate.

    For example, in a firm that celebrates personal as well as collective wins, cube farms and other high-density work environments can send a mixed message about the relationship between individual and team. Plus, when every floor and corridor looks the same, it’s easy to feel disoriented and powerless, not to mention waste time and brain power just figuring out where you are.

    Instead, make it easy for employees to know where they are—and where they want to be—by plotting out intuitive layouts with a mix of experiential areas. Those areas should foster collaboration as well as heads-down work and relaxation.

  3. Communicate purpose with design choices, too. For instance, in an area intended for refresh and recharge, incorporate cool colors, comfortable furniture and tasteful ”Tech-free Zone” plaques to convey the sense that this is meant to be a peaceful haven. Landmark architectural elements like unique archways or doors and distinctive artwork can also help people mentally map their location within the larger context, enhancing their comfort and confidence moving about the space.

  4. Give people a friendly “nudge.” Despite our best intentions, Americans spend an annual $397 million in unused gym memberships. Everyone needs a little encouragement to make healthy choices—and the workplace can do exactly that. So, in addition to providing thoughtful health and wellness amenities, leverage design and layout to help make it easy for people to actually choose to use them.

    This might include positioning fitness and rejuventation spaces at strategically accessible locations throughout the space. And since visualization is often the first step to any action, use creative signage to help people not only remember wellness spaces are available, but also picture themselves enjoying them.
    Effective nudges can be as simple as hanging motivating posters outside the stairwell, or as complex as spacing out beverage stations to encourage people to walk more. Just be sure to keep it positive and avoid any semblance of a guilt trip.

  5. Reduce employee stress by embracing biophilia. It’s biological—humans think and feel better with regular access to sunlight, plants and other natural items. The benefits of having natural elements in our surroundings are well-documented, from lowering stress and blood pressure to improving mood.

    So, bring the outside in wherever possible, whether it’s by opening up more expansive views and increasing daylight, incorporating living walls and potted plants, or choosing wood over plastic desks.

Life is stressful—­your workplace can help.

In this era of uncertainty, some amount of stress is inevitable—not only because of world events, but also due to looming deadlines and the pressure to keep customers happy. Yet organizations can help turn the tide by alleviating workplace stress, and in turn, fostering employee loyalty and performance.

By shaping an experiential, human-centered workplace that puts people first, organizations can create experiences that make the days more engaging and more inspiring for teams to bring their best.