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Secrets for less stress and better health and wellness (and more success at work)

Who are you?


You're a HR professional with a passion for people, and a commitment to business success. You believe that people are your biggest resource, and that keeping them well delivers a win:win for everyone. You want the best talent; you are aiming at success and to deliver more in your organisation or community.


Let's explore three things as you uncover the secrets to plan your strategic/organisational 'next moves':

  • Understanding and engaging millennials
  • Identifying key drivers for your effective health/well-being agenda
  • Enrolling leaders in the importance of the well-being agenda in your workplace



Engaging Millennials


The 'Deloitte 2018 Millennial Survey' highlights key insights for HR professionals and leaders into the millennial mind-set. Millennials don't believe that Business is succeeding at delivering strategies and actions which will alter the social fabric of the world - inside the business and beyond. They believe that a diverse leadership team is more likely to deliver the holistic approach which will identify and cause that change. For millennials diversity is not an ethnic or gender quota - diversity includes 'tolerance, inclusiveness and openness; respect of and acknowledgement of individuals; different ideas and ways of thinking.'


What are the 'big ticket items'/key drivers for health and well-being in 2019 and beyond?


We are hearing a lot about stress levels, about mental health issues and about a lack of engagement, especially amongst Millennials; these may be important indicators of what needs to change.


WorkSafe defines stress as 'not being able to cope with the demands on you' and as an identifiable risk which must be managed (Health and Safety at Work Act/HSW, 2015).


What are the top five stressors for us in New Zealand? The 'Southern Cross Wellness in the workplace study' from 2015 tells us:


Reflecting on these top five we see that 'relationship issues' and 'management style and work relationships' strongly signal the need to identify, develop and sustain leaders and managers with better inter-personal skills. Adding in 'general workload', 'pressure to meet targets' and 'long hours' it is clear that these may also be impacted by team-dynamics, communication and leadership styles and competency in managing and leading 'business as usual' and 'change'.


And we see that Stress levels are still rising. (By 2017 the new Wellness survey showed a further increase of 22.9 percent see link in references below.) The HSW Act tells us that 'Whoever creates the risk manages the risk' - encouraging us to understand that leaders and managers (their decisions, skills and behaviours) are fundamental in generating a safe working environment.


In a recent article Mai Chen adds Mental Health issues - also on the rise in New Zealand - as a newer risk to be managed, advising us that 'whether mental health policies and procedures in the workplace succeed will depend on; employers buying into the idea that this is a health issue €¦and, employees feeling comfortable raising mental health concerns.'


Bigger than just work


The effects of work-related stress don't pause when you leave work. Persistent stress outcomes include headaches, stomach aches, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can produce anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure or a weakened immune system plus health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart disease. And stressed people are more susceptible to choosing unhealthy 'coping' habits like eating unhealthy foods, smoking or overusing drugs and alcohol. Stress may also affect their parenting skills and a whole new generation.


These stressors result in absent workers and, building our business case, it's worth reflecting on the bottom-line for New Zealand organisations: 'Wellness in the Workplace Survey 2015  reports that the direct costs of absence amount to more than $1.45b a year.' By 2017 this sum was $1.51b. Fewer absences will result in a better financial bottom line.


Do wellness initiatives deliver results? In a report from the CIPD (UK) report that 'organisations with health and well-being activities in place during 2017 had positive results, including better employee morale and engagement (44%), a healthier and more inclusive culture (35%), and lower sickness absence (31%).'


As HR professionals you will need to understand the specific patterns in your own organisations and industries to create effective initiatives and accurately measure outcomes.


What can turn this tide delivering effective changed justifying investment?


The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSW Act) shifted the focus to identifying and managing risks, moving us towards preventing harm. Employers and business owners are invited to protect people by eliminating and minimising risks and encouraging information and education, amongst other things. The Act invites a strategic and operational approach to enable employers to play their part in developing a resilient workforce - with physical, mental and emotional well-being. Stress impacts behaviour, performance and relationships with colleagues - knowing how to manage the different signs of stress is key to managing people effectively.


And engagement?


Beyond a 'healthy safe workplace' you may also be building an engaging workplace? HRINZ tells us that 'Engaged employees€¦ want to, and actually do, take action to improve business results.', There are ...'compelling lines of evidence that show a strong relationship between sustained employee engagement and a wide range of company performance measures.' So how can HR professionals and other leaders deliver this diverse and authentically open world in which individuals feel they can engage and make a difference?


The good news is that workers with high Emotional Intelligence (EI) are better able to work in teams, adjust to change and be flexible - generating better relationships within the workplace and out into the market with your customers. As the world and the workplace continue to evolve - embracing innovation and new technologies - it appears that demand for these EI competencies increases. Acting now is a way of future proofing your workplace.


Let's step more fully into the how? The Emotional Intelligence system is competency based. High Emotional Intelligence is an indicator of successful leadership and team contribution.


Daniel Goleman - leading expert in Emotional Intelligence (and one of the lead designers, with Richard Boyatzis, of the KORNFERRY ESCI tool) - says that the behaviours and skills defined in the specific competencies of EI can be learned and developed.


These competencies include: Self-awareness: understanding my own strengths and weaknesses, and how my actions affect others as I accept and learn from effective feedback. Self-management: including an ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check. Social Awareness including empathy - sensing others feelings and understanding their perspectives and organisational awareness - here I can read a group's emotional currents; identifying influences, networks and dynamics. And Relationship Management: including influencing, coaching and mentoring, managing conflict, offering inspiring leadership.


Your organisation may decide it is crucial to recruit high EI workers; and just as crucial to build EI capability amongst your managers and leaders. Patterns are changing - remember millennial workers want diversity and an opportunity to change things.


What can you do in your workplace to reduce stress and grow well-being for individuals, teams and leaders who work there? You can:

  • Endorse and encourage emotional intelligence skills audits identifying personal strengths
  • Encourage leaders and teams to optimise workstreams and workloads - playing to these strengths
  • Plan training and assessments which enable your people - including Emotional Intelligence, Coaching, Working with Strong Emotions and in Identifying Signals of Mental Health Issues so that people are referred for early support
  • Train your leaders to offer different conversations - utilising the Coach Approach as a leadership practice and increasing their quality-listening to move your organisation to a healthier place
  • Develop a culture-of-learning-from-mistakes and a team-culture where collective responsibility is real
  • Find ways to measure for outcomes not just the bottom line - such as surveying for engagement and happiness? Or assessing Emotional Intelligence annually?
  • Consider what 'social-goods' your organisation may align with or contribute to.

These actions will reduce stress levels and eventually significantly lower the stressors themselves.


A vision of success: Greater diversity - by the millennial definition - will increase thoughtful, mindful, resilient behaviours; grow innovation and even out the roller coaster effect so often present when things are lurching from one change to the next. Your people will be less stressed. Less stressed people will have fewer days off sick. Engaged individuals and teams will tend to take ownership, to build momentum and to gain in competence, and confidence. They will deliver better results.


Your business case to set these actions in motion? Developing leadership and line manager knowledge, skills and confidence is a priority for your well-being agenda. Training solutions should be highly tailored to your specific needs. Once you have made the case with leaders for the bottom line, and the need to be a preferred employer - the case for well-being and emotional intelligence makes itself.


All your leaders need competence and confidence in diverse thinking and in offering sensitive conversations/ support for employees needing help and in actively encouraging well-being. Leaders are workers too - and with your Emotional Intelligence strengths identified you will find it easier to be consistently engaged and to believe that what you are doing is making a difference in the world.


References and resources available on request.




Endorse and encourage emotional intelligence skills audits identifying personal strengths