Stress & Well-Being Lessons from The Boss

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The following post comes from Lucy English, Managing Director of Institutional Research at Horizons Workforce Consulting.

I've spent recent weeks analyzing data on employee well-being. Each new dataset leads me to understand us employees in new ways. It's been clear since I began this work that resilience is of primary importance to well-being. When I say resilience, I mean a combination of an optimistic approach to life, a subjective feeling of being able to bounce back from difficulties, and the ability to maintain a sense of humor. These qualities do more to buoy us through work and life than any other factor. While external circumstances do influence well-being, two people with similar personal life challenges will fare very differently based on their resilience levels.

Well-Being Challenges by the Numbers

But resilience levels aren't stable over time. Even people who normally bounce back fast and strong can spring a leak in their kickball and land with a flop. Sometimes it can be very hard to come back. In one workforce I analyzed, 15% of respondents were experiencing "very significant" levels of stress over personal relationships think divorce, heartbreak, family strife. 16% had very significant stress over personal health concerns. 6% were suffering very significant stress over an adult or elder in their care, and 17% over their child or children. At the time of the study, nearly a quarter of employees  23%  were suffering from very significant stress in one or more of the four areas mentioned above.

Rewiring our Support Structure

As employers, we're not hardwired to deal with those kinds of things. But maybe we should be. The question is, what can we do to humanize our workplaces a little more?

Tips for supporting and managing employee stress:

  • Remind managers, through training, to remember how much people keep hidden under their professional veneers.
  • Create ways for peers to connect in the workplace to see each other as more than just co-workers, as people with the same sets of struggles.
  • Continue to work on innovative ways to be flexible with schedules. Allow time away from the office and encourage people to take vacations.
  • Stay vigilant in our push to communicate helpful work/life benefits. While we get tired of that never-ending battle, we forget how many new people are always joining the team. Oftentimes, we don't notice particular benefits until we need them.
  • Reach out one-on-one to someone we know at work and let them know that we care about them.

From "The Boss" to the Boss

We all know from our own lives that there are times when getting by is all you can do.  In some ways, relying on resilience is just that  getting by.  Much of the time that works. But when we can't manage alone, we need our family, friends and community.  Work is a large part of that for many of us, and I would venture to guess that even people with very strong social resources could use some compassion at work too. I have a little Post-It on my desk that says "everybody has a hungry heart" (yes, the old song from the other Boss).  My ongoing challenge is to think about how we, as employers, can feed the hearts of our employees.  My best answer is that we have to set up cultures where we all engage in that work, with and for each other.