Stress Management – Provide ‘Safe Space’ for Staff to Heal
Employees often bring emotional issues to work … Examples range from having political views that lead to arguments on the plant floor to concerns about hate crimes/discrimination. Other times it’s personal … worries about a broken relationship or a family illness can generate stress – and undermine staff morale. Employers can help tackle these problems by providing staff with a “safe space” to work through their stress – and if necessary get them outside help. The issue of stress management was the focus of a Nov. 3 webinar facilitated by Kortney Overzet, chair of TRSA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Committee. This hour-long discussion drew 20-plus attendees to look at steps that employers can take to help reduce workplace stress.
The webinar, titled “How to Cope Through Stressful Times” was the third in a series of “Safe Space” virtual sessions sponsored by the DEI Committee. The two earlier webinars included an Aug. 30 program titled “How to Cope with Burnout in the Workplace” and a Sept. 29 session dubbed, “Workplace Harassment.”
Overzet, who also serves as director of people operations and culture for Spindle, outlined several strategies that managers can use to help employees cope with stress, regardless of its source. It starts with identifying stressors and making sure employees know that they can speak freely – and if necessary confidentially – to management about their concerns.
One organizational response to stressed-out employees is to encourage like-minded individuals with common concerns to form an employee resource group (ERG). The group can meet privately to discuss their concerns. An ERG might form for women, minority group members, parents, veterans, or others that want a forum where they can speak freely without distracting other staff. “They can talk about coping strategies or how they are talking to their children or their loved ones or others that are in their life but don’t understand what they’re going through,” Overzet says, adding that a management representative can sit in on the group’s discussion. ERGs offer a great opportunity for company leaders to enhance their awareness of employee stressors, while gaining a perspective on the concerns of various groups of employees. “It’s also a way to understand how to celebrate the diversity and differences in your workplace,” Overzet said, adding that the groups also can join less formal “safe space groups.” “Whatever you want to call it, I encourage you to create those for your employees,” Overzet says.
While organizing ESGs can help address anxieties over public issues like equal treatment of women and minorities at work, employers also must deal with individual issues such as depression or anxiety stemming from nonwork relationships, such as a recent divorce or a family illness. Helping employees work through these issues is especially challenging during the holiday season. Companies typically want to celebrate the “season of giving,” but staff with personal or family-related problems can feel left out of the fun. “For some that is the jolliest time of year,” Overzet says. “But for others, it could really bring a lot of stress.” The reasons some people feel down during the holidays are as varied as your workforce itself. “Some, it may be because of a financial situation,” Overzet says. “They’re worried about getting gifts.” Others may feel a personal loss due to relationship problems or a death in the family. “For some it could be the loneliest time of year for them because now they’re hearing these songs on the radio and they’re like, ‘Oh, I wish I had somebody to do that with.’” A simple way to counter this tendency, is to post signs near the holiday decorations that say, “You are not alone.” This gives the person who is struggling reassurance that in the midst of all the celebration, they are seen and important.
Employers or HR specialists that are not licensed psychologists or therapists should not try to address these problems, but they can show employees they care through regular communications and listening to any issues a staff person may want to raise. They should provide the employees with specific information on mental healthcare available through the company’s benefit programs, e.g., how may therapy sessions the plan will cover a month. “Entertain the thought of putting this out more broadly,” Overzet says, noting that normalizing the fact that mental health issues exist can lessen the stigma that some may feel about the issue. This, in turn, could make them more comfortable seeking help if needed.
One recent innovation in this area was the passage by Congress in 2020 of a suicide hotline number, 988, a variation on the 911 emergency number with which most people are familiar. While this topic is sensitive, Overzet suggested a non-threatening way to introduce it by pointing out the number as a “fun fact” for staff. “Suicide prevention and mental health support, wow,” she said. “Use that as your ‘fun fact.’ If you know somebody needs to hear it, and you’re not sure how to tell them. Who knows? You might just help them.”
Overzet and webinar moderator Salita Jones of TRSA next invited attendees to share their “biggest single business stressor” via the chat function online. Several topics that came up included work-life balance, school safety, hate crimes, violence, family and financial concerns and others. Overzet advised attendees that while they’re concerned about their co-workers and families, they need to manage their own stressors too. “Focus on ‘filling your own tank,’” she said. “When you feel like so many others are pulling from it, just like you wouldn’t let your car run out of gas … don’t let yourself run out of gas.”
To ensure confidentiality for this forum, the “How to Cope Through Stressful Times” as well as the “How to Cope with Burnout in the Workplace” were not recorded. The workshop on Workplace Harassment was recorded and is available for viewing via our On-Demand Learning Center. At the conclusion of the program, Jones reminded attendees that those who have participated in all three of the DEI Committee’s Safe Space Series will receive a free book, The Awesome Human Project: Break Free from Daily Burnout, by Nataly Kogan, sponsored by Dan Gonder, president of Strategic In/Sight Partners. In a statement, Gonder praised the webinar series, noting that it can boost workplace satisfaction and business growth. “We appreciate the opportunity to sponsor this TRSA webinar series because we know teamwork is a core function for success at Strategic In/Sight Partners,” Gonder said. “We know the importance of cultivating a safe environment, so teams feel empowered to share honestly with one another and work together to create solutions, instead of feeling anonymous or unappreciated in their roles. Our process of coaching, engagement and regular check-ins help leaders foster a feeling of mutual trust and vulnerability, encouraging teams.” Click here for more on TRSA’s DEI Committee.