Last week on the way to work, I was flipping through radio stations and heard a DJ reading stories about employees getting sick from terrible jobs. And I got so excited! Not because toxic work environments make me happy, but because I’m glad people are paying attention to the real-life implications of employee stress—40 percent of American workers say their job is very or extremely stressful. Here are some of the experiences employees with terrible jobs reported:
· I have had a headache almost everyday since I started.
· I’ve gained 50 pounds, developed hypothyroid, and had three surgeries.
· I was diagnosed with depression and was suicidal.
· I broke out in shingles when I was 27.
· I ended up in the ER puking with severe stomach pain.
· A co-worker confided self-harm to me.
· I burst a blood vessel in my eye.
· I lost hair, gained weight, and ended up getting divorced.
· I got Bell’s Palsy. Half of my face is still paralyzed.
So, even though it might be tempting to squeeze as much productivity out of your employees as possible, you should consider how it will affect their health. What can you do to minimize stress on your employees, maximize their health, and still have a productive workforce? Here are a few ideas:
Mental health days: I think it’s happened to everyone: You get to Tuesday and you don’t think you can stand coming in every day for the rest of the week. Maybe you really just need a day to stay home with your family or spend out in nature or curl up reading a book at home. Humans get burned out sometimes, and it doesn’t always conveniently happen right before the weekend. Unfortunately, this situation leaves most employees with only a few options:
1. They fake sick. Because vacation is usually required to be requested well in advance, the only option for not going into work is pretending to be sick. You don’t want to encourage lying.
2. They go to work and are actively disengaged. If they’re required to be at work but are extremely burned out, they’ll likely come in and spend most of the day distracting coworkers with conversations or surfing social media.
3. They push through. This is what they should do most of the time. Adults have to swallow frogs sometimes, and that’s okay.
It’s also okay for employees to take a day to mentally recalibrate every once in awhile. You can make some rules so it’s not a burden to coworkers. For instance, you can require employees to request a mental health day 48 hours in advance. You can only allow 2 per year. You can give managers the ability to deny certain days off and suggest other days instead (this can prevent employees from using a mental health day to avoid giving a presentation or some other important assignment). Mental health days are a way to help your employees avoid burnout, but they don’t have to burden everyone else.
Vacation benefits: Most people have the ability to take vacation days, but many don’t have the resources to do anything fun during those days off so they don’t bother. Get creative and come up with some benefits to help employees afford vacations. Maybe schedule a Friday during the summer and pay for all of your employees’ and their families’ admission into a local theme park. Consider giving vacation bonuses. You could even award some well-deserving employees or randomly select a few employees to enjoy an all-expenses paid vacation with a guest (or multiple guests) of their choice.
Reasonable work requirements: Of course, the best option is to just avoid a stressful workplace altogether. Excessive work hours, aggressive workplace politics or immense pressure and mounting deadlines may be a few of the culprits pushing employees to the edge. Remember: employees who aren’t stressed are more productive. And whether you believe in work-life balance or work-life integration, you should care about making your workplace a low-stress place to be considering your employees spend at least 40 hours a week (most of their conscious hours) there.
Stress can have some devastating effects on your employees’ health—stress has been linked to 40 percent higher heart disease in women and 25 percent higher heart attacks in men. You have a responsibility to make sure the work environment at your organization isn’t detrimental. Doing just a few things will help you create a better internal culture and decrease the amount of time your employees are out for health reasons.