It’s Time to Destigmatize Stress in the Workplace

​​Life today is stressful - and work plays a big part in that. With the added stress of the pandemic, the rate of anxiety has skyrocketed. Work-related stress already accounted for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost. 60% of adults report that their mental health got worse during lockdown. 

However, while, 75% of employees report that they feel stressed1, only 40% say they are offered stress management support by their employers2. There are likely several issues contributing to this gap between needs and assistance, but concerns related to being open about mental health challenges are likely a key driver. In this article, we look at what can be done to address the stigma around talking about stress.

Workers don’t talk about stress because they fear repercussions - but they want the stigma removed

The reality is that the majority of people struggle with stress at some point in their life, but the stigma related to talking about stress and mental health may stop them from seeking support. 

In fact, multiple studies have found that workers with stress choose not to tell the employer because they fear repercussions3. This is a real problem. James Hewitt, human performance scientist and Chief Commercial & Innovation Officer at OPTIVIO, says, “I think many of us would benefit from thinking about mental health as a continuum, rather than assuming that we are either healthy or ill, with nothing in-between. We would all like to feel mentally healthy and strong at all times, but in reality, we have good days, not-so-good days, and bad days. This doesn't necessarily mean that we are mentally ill, but normalizing conversations about our struggles, and knowing where we can get help when we need it, is an important part of maintaining and building good mental health.”

And studies back up this statement - according to research, 86% of workers think that a company’s culture should support stress and mental health. And this percentage is even higher for Millennials and Gen Zers, who have higher turnover rates and are the largest demographic in the workforce4. Employers risk losing talent if they don’t address this issue. 

How can companies do better?

The onus is on employers to be proactive in offering support, and opening up the conversation about stress. However, the way to address this issue likely isn’t more ping-pong tables or gym memberships. It means a real adjustment in organization-wide strategies - and in attitudes - starting at the top. 

Workers say they want a more open culture, better training, and clearer information about where to go or who to ask for support when they need it. Experts suggest the following ways to destigmatize stress in the workplace:

    • Start at the top and model disclosure. Encourage executive teams and managers to share their own experiences openly. 62% of workers want their company leaders to talk about stress at work5. As Kelly Greenwood of Harvard Business Review, says “modeling openness and vulnerability as strengths, not weaknesses, goes a long way toward reducing the stigma and setting the tone for transparency.”6

    • Offer a solid set of mental health benefits. And make sure to communicate what they are and how to use them clearly and openly - don’t just leave them to be discovered by employees in the employee handbook.

    • Invest in education and training. Training helps all levels of an organization to learn how to name, normalize, and cope with stress at work. And having a set of tools, like OPTIVIO’s enterprise-level stress management and performance optimization platform to help identify job stress and deal with it effectively, goes a long way toward reducing the stigma.

    • Set boundaries around work time and downtime, and consider the popularity of remote work. The blurring of work and personal time is a significant source of job stress. Set clear guidelines in all departments that make it clear that downtime is important, and that emails and calls won’t be made outside of work hours unless extremely urgent. Make virtual work a viable option where it makes sense.

    • Create real employee development policies. Make sure workers are in the right position, that their position has growth possibilities, and that they feel rewarded - and openly recognized - for their work. Make a regular and visible commitment to follow through on these policies and to make changes if they aren’t working.

The takeaway

It’s encouraging to see that we are moving in the right direction around talking about stress. In a recent survey, 87% of American adults agreed that having a mental health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of7. As a society, we need to accept that stress is a universal experience, recognize that some of us feel better equipped to manage stress than others, and acknowledge that we would all benefit from destigmatizing conversations about our mental health.

Companies need to do more to destigmatize stress in the workplace. In this era of The Great Resignation, leaders must do all they can to listen to what workers want and to create an organizational culture in which workers feel safe and supported, and with which they want to be associated.

Optivio is an enterprise-level stress management and performance optimization platform that can help your workforce better manage stress. Learn more about it here: 

1. Stress in America Survey; American Psychological Association (2019).
2. Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey; Anxiety & Depression Association of America (2006).
3. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Mental health in the workplace: conceal or reveal?
4. Harvard Business Review, Workers Want to Talk to Their Employers About Stress and Mental Health
5. Forbes, Employees Want Company Leaders to Talk About Mental Health
6. Harvard Business Review, Workers Want to Talk to Their Employers About Stress and Mental Health
7. American Psychological Association, Mental Health Survey 2019.

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