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5 ways to lower employee stress

Move toward a more people-centered culture
4 min read

Since 2020, the world of work has been in a time of great transition. Whatever you call it—The Great Resignation, The Great Reorganization, The Big Quit, The Great Reshuffle, etc.—it’s clear the employment landscape is changing. And there’s good evidence that many people were rethinking their jobs even before 2020. Experts at the Harvard Business Review looked at the data and concluded that “what we are living through is not just short-term turbulence provoked by the pandemic but rather the continuation of a long-term trend.” The average monthly quit rate in the United States was already increasing every year leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are many reasons for this exodus. Burnout is a huge factor. In a 2022 Wiley Workplace Research study, 97 percent of people reported some work-related stress, and 86 percent reported feelings of burnout. In addition, a variety of opportunities that used to be limited by location are now available to anyone. People in high-risk, low-wage jobs such as food service are evaluating the risk-reward balance as more industries reopen. Many people took early retirement. And scores of people are “epiphany-quitting” after some soul-searching.

Employers’ values in the spotlight

The challenging situations of 2020 put employers’ values in the spotlight, and not everyone liked what they saw. Then, when companies began pushing to get people back in the office, their values were in play again. Some employees want their workdays to look more like they did before the pandemic. But others have gotten used to remote work and/or flexible hours, and don’t see a reason things should go back to how they were before.

This quote from a digital agency worker in Leeds sums up the way a lot of people are feeling: “Lockdown provided an opportunity to reflect—and help me realise what I want from work. I want a job that suits my life and means I’m not tied to a desk all day, every day. And if I don’t feel happy, I can just quit. There are more than enough jobs out there.”

Office vs. remote is just one factor fueling this time of reckoning. Research from Wiley shows that the companies losing talent are the ones who fail to emphasize a people-centered approach, one that “leverages the unique needs, insights, and capabilities of your people.”

Wiley surveyed 4,500 working professionals from a variety of industries in July 2021, and the results appear in the ebook Keep Your People: How to Navigate The Great Resignation (PDF). They found that “although the transition to working from home should help with work/life balance in theory… that’s not exactly how it’s played out,” with only 18 percent of respondents feeling very satisfied with their work/life balance.

Wiley correlated respondents’ stress levels with the policies their organizations have in place to illuminate the policies that make the most difference.

Top 5 policies correlated to lower employee stress

#1 Additional PTO and mental health days

In Wiley’s survey, only 32 percent of respondents said that their employers had modified their PTO policy since the pandemic began. Yet employees rank it as the policy with the strongest impact on lowering their stress levels. Wiley concludes: “organizations that actively prioritize, discuss, and cater to their employees’ mental health moving forward will be in a better position to retain and attract top talent.”

#2 Greater flexibility

It’s old-fashioned to think that workers can only be productive if they come into the office for 8+ hours a day. Flexible hours and working locations are actually key drivers in increasing productivity, with 43 percent of digital workers saying flexible hours help them achieve greater productivity, and 30 percent saying they get more done because of no or less time commuting.

Employees want flexibility in where and when they work, and they will seek out the companies that make that possible.

#3 Non-work time to connect with colleagues

Successful organizations keep culture at their core. In Wiley’s survey, 59 percent of people reported that their organization invests in building employee relationships. Wiley says, “As the hybrid work environment becomes increasingly prevalent, don’t forget to purposefully build in optional, fun, non-work interactions so you can ensure that people stay connected, wherever they are.”

#4 Listening sessions with leaders

People want to feel heard. They want someone to listen when they have concerns, and they want to be acknowledged for their contributions. Employees are more likely to feel committed to their work when they feel like the leaders in the organization sincerely care what happens to them. According to Wiley, “people have lower stress levels when leaders reach out and listen.”

#5 Training opportunities

Providing development opportunities for employees is another way to demonstrate your investment in them. It also, of course, means that your employees have more skills. Wiley says, “it’s critical to invest in your workforce to ensure they have the most up-to-date skills to stay competitive in their respective fields. A culture that emphasizes people can help reduce employee stress, thereby helping you hire and retain top talent.”

Moving toward a people-centered culture

Examining where your organization stands with these five benefits is a great way to assess how well-positioned you are to move toward a more people-centered culture.

With the rapid growth of remote work, companies can lose their employees not only to other companies in their city but to new remote opportunities around the world. As Wiley writes, putting people first will be “the difference between the way things were and the way things will be in the new normal.”

Keep Your People: How to Navigate The Great Resignation will help you assess how people-centered your organization is. Then you can focus on building up the policies that reduce employee stress and keep your people happy.

Read the ebook here. (And why not send it to your boss?)


Avery Harris-Gray

SC style, NY based. Writing about Everything DiSC and The Five Behaviors since 2020. Leadership style: humble. EQ mindset: composed. I always have snacks to share.

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