Stress is taking a major toll on the American workforce. More than one-third of working Americans report chronic work-related stress; 79 percent report not getting enough sleep; and 69 percent admit to struggling with concentration as a result of stress and sleep deprivation. These issues aren’t just affecting the mental and physical wellbeing of Americans. They’re also costing U.S. businesses $300 billion each year in lost productivity.
This raises some questions: What’s the antidote to all this stress? And how can employers increase productivity at a time when it’s steadily declining across the board?
The answers may lie in employee self-care. Encouraging employees to tend to their own health and wellbeing produces a number of benefits, including reduced absenteeism and staff turnover, reduced healthcare costs, happier employees, and greater productivity overall. Here are six self-care practices that can improve the mental and physical health of American workers—and boost employees’ productivity in the process.
Mindfulness practices. Mindfulness promises a host of benefits for employees. Practices such as yoga and meditation have been shown to boost cognition by facilitating clear thinking, focus, and concentration. Mindfulness can also reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, which are proven productivity killers. Encourage employees to practice mindfulness by hosting mindfulness trainings and/or designating a quiet space in the office for meditation.
Exercise. Study after study finds that productivity increases when corporate employees get regular exercise (not to mention the physical and mental health benefits of maintaining a physical fitness routine). This is partly because exercise can help increase energy and alertness. Encourage employees to work out by providing gym memberships or an on-site gym. You could also consider an incentives program for employees who walk, run, or bike to work instead of driving.
Spending time in nature. Much like mindfulness, time spent in nature can pay off in the form of improved cognitive function (including better focus and concentration) as well as reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Kill two birds with one stone by making walking meetings a common practice at the office. Not only will this get workers into nature, but it will also enable physical activity.
Eating healthy foods. We all know a healthy diet is critical for our physical health. Turns out the foods we eat also have a major effect on our cognitive performance. People who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to be more engaged and more creative—two qualities that are indispensable to productivity. Eating the appropriate macronutrients on a daily basis can also improve memory and enhance mood. Encourage healthy eating by providing healthy snacks during meetings and in vending machines and paying your employees enough for them to afford fresh, wholesome food. It’s also important to encourage full use of lunch breaks so employees have time to prepare and enjoy healthy foods.
Quitting smoking. No doubt your employees know they should quit smoking cigarettes for their physical health. But turns out smoking can also impair productivity. That’s because smoking can speed up cognitive decline, reduce focus and concentration, and impair working memory. There’s also a link between smoking and snoring: Smoking can increase the risk of snoring, which is a major sleep disruptor. Sleep deprivation, in turn, is one of the greatest productivity killers around. It impairs cognitive performance, negatively affects mood, and decreases productivity without fail. Consider offering an incentives program for employees who kick the nicotine habit.
Having social support. Employees who lack social support systems are more likely to experience both reduced productivity and health problems (which can further reduce productivity). In contrast, being part of a supportive network can reduce stress and boost happiness, which is linked to increased productivity. Facilitate strong bonds between coworkers by maintaining a culture of respectful communication and mutual support, regularly providing opportunities for team members to bond with each other, and maybe even starting a mentorship program to cultivate relationships between employees and company higher-ups.
In order for your employees to feel comfortable practicing self-care, it’s imperative that management set the example. (In fact, companies that promote employee health are less likely to experience productivity declines even during stressful events such as market downturns.) Practice the behaviors on this list and encourage your employees to do the same, and the productivity increases will take care of themselves.