Stress is a way of life for many of us, particularly individuals who are highly driven, passionate and eager to work hard to set themselves apart in their chosen field. We thrive on pressure and love a new challenge or an impossible deadline. The technical term for this type of positive stress experience is eustress, the brighter, much sunnier cousin of the “bad stress” we experience as distress.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, as designated by NAMI, and provides an excellent opportunity to draw attention to negative experiences of stress that can lead to mental health issues in the workplace such as anxiety, depression, decreased performance, and burnout.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributors to burnout may be a workplace culture that ignores the problem—and encourages stoicism rather than speaking up to voice concerns or ask for help. In research conducted by OSMI among tech workers in 2020, an overwhelming majority of survey respondents (74.2%) reported that they would feel more comfortable talking to a coworker about a physical health condition than their mental health. Only 26.5% said that they would feel comfortable discussing a mental health issue with their direct supervisor, and 74% have never discussed their mental health with an employer.
Promoting Mental Wellness at the Leadership Level
The way an organization’s leaders respond to questions surrounding mental health sets the tone for how these issues will be dealt with at every level. In the same survey cited above, OSMI also asked tech workers if they have ever disclosed a mental health condition to their employer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most answered no. Concerns about how this information would be viewed by supervisors or coworkers, combined with apprehension about how those relationships would be affected, appears to hold many employees back from openly discussing mental health issues – and by extension, preventing them from asking for help when they need it.
In the first episode of our new podcast, CXplorations, Cyara’s President James Isaacs touched on why he feels businesses need to be concerned with the mental health of their employees. “With the extraordinary year we’ve had, which created enormous mental duress, we have to care about it. We have to ask the question, ‘How are you doing today?’ And listen for the answer.”
Episode 1: Mental Wellness in the Workplace and Achieving a Sustainable Culture
Hear the full interview with James Isaacs, as well as a discussion with Cyara’s HR leaders about mental health, wellness, and the many great programs employees are encouraged to take advantage of at Cyara. (Listen and Subscribe on Youtube or Spotify)
Programs to Proactively Combat Stress and Burnout
And it’s not just about doing right by employees. Programs that address mental health also help the business in terms of improved productivity and employee retention. But leaders who take a hands-off approach to these initiatives rather than actively encouraging participation can end up with expensive and underutilized programs that only serve to generate more stigma and isolation.
Cyara’s leadership operates at the opposite end of this spectrum, becoming personally involved and encouraging all employees to take advantage of the wide range of mental health and wellness programs the company provides.
These programs run the gamut of proven tactics to prevent and alleviate mental and emotional stress, and can be easily generalized to suit the culture of any organization:
Take Care of Your Physical Wellbeing
Exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting sufficient sleep, and making sure your workstation isn’t causing strain or discomfort throughout the day – as well as taking regular screen breaks – are all part of the big picture of physical health. Workers whose jobs demand long, uninterrupted stretches of focus to complete projects are especially vulnerable to stress-induced injuries, both mental and physical.
The mind is an important part of the body; it enjoys the same benefits of increased activity as the rest of our physical selves, including increased oxygen and circulation. There’s a reason a five minute stretch or a brisk walk around the perimeter of the building can brighten someone’s mood and bring on better problem-solving. As a way of breaking up our long focus blocks, Cyara offers regular yoga sessions taught by Cyaran Clara Eckel, and encourages team activities such as “walking meetings.”
Cyarans can also take advantage of ClassPass, a program that provides monthly credits that can be used toward fitness classes or activities.
Give Your Mind Some Quiet Time
Headspace, the popular app for meditation and stress relief points out the scientific benefits of taking even just a few minutes to focus only on your breathing and allow the mind to think about nothing. Given that so much of our day is focused on jumping from one thought to the next, inserting a brief pause can provide an opportunity to let go, regroup, and re-center your priorities to focus on what’s most important.
Cyara’s CEO Alok Kulkarni is a well-known advocate of meditation in the business world, and regularly leads group meditation sessions for any Cyarans who want to take part.
Volunteer to Help in Your Community
If taking time away from the workday to offer volunteer service seems like a counterintuitive way to achieve greater productivity, consider the known health benefits of volunteering: greater happiness and sense of wellbeing, feelings of connection to a community, and satisfaction from contributing to the common good and a greater purpose, to name just a few. Many forward-thinking organizations now recognize that a volunteering initiative not only benefits the world in which we work and live, it provides an excellent avenue to improved mental health among employees.
Cyara encourages all employees to take advantage of a quarterly paid day off that they can use to participate in any “give-back” activity of their choice. Many organizations enjoy leveraging volunteer activities as team-building exercises, another great way to get out into the community and work toward a common goal outside of the office.
Learn Something New
Whether it’s a new skill, a new hobby, or just an interesting topic you’ve always wanted to know more about, lifelong learning is linked to improvements in quality of life and neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt to challenges as a result of new experiences. Improvements in memory, critical thinking, curiosity, and creativity all benefit individuals and employers alike.
One way to encourage continued learning is dedicating budget to training and career enrichment programs. Employees who feel valued and see the long-term investment in their own career path as worthwhile, may have an easier time coping with stress on a day-to-day basis. Cyara takes this initiative a step further and provides each employee with an annual learning stipend that they can spend on any educational activity of their choice, whether it directly relates to their job function or is a personal interest. (Hello, harmonica lessons and painting classes!)
Talk to a Friend (or Friendly Coworker)
Remote settings have made casual connections more challenging by taking away opportunities to stop by someone’s office just to say hi, or join in an ongoing watercooler conversation. But technology that’s made remote work easier can also help keep teams--and office buddies--connected. Collaboration platforms such as Teams, Zoom, Discord, Slack, and even custom-built corporate applications can help fill the communications gap.
For businesses with a highly distributed remote workforce like Cyara, many newer employees who were brought onboard during the past year of travel restrictions have never even met their bosses, closest coworkers, or teams in person, much less in a casual, after-work setting. Cyara’s 5-to-9 program was created as a fun way to get to know the people you work with, by playing fun virtual games like Bingo, Scattergories, and more.
Opportunities like these, to relax, unwind, commiserate, laugh, and see the true personalities of the many talented people around you, is just another way of reinforcing a solid foundation of culture that is so important to a healthy workplace.
Anyone who has experienced periods of burnout knows what a toll it can take on your mental health and quality of life. For more help understanding and dealing with its symptoms, we recommend starting here.