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Editor’s Question: How do you help employees reduce stress?

Editor’s Question: How do you help employees reduce stress?

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With Stress Awareness Week in mind, one Brighton-based business shared their experience of allowing dogs in the office to help reduce stress.

A lover of dogs, Cloud9 Insight CEO, Carlene Jackson, realised that inviting dogs into the office during the 2022 heatwaves seemed to boost team morale as well as reducing stress levels.

“A lot of our employees wanted to come to the office because we have pretty good air con. But it occurred to me that WFH employees’ pets might be struggling in the heatwave, too.

“I took the lead, so to speak, and brought my dogs into the office. I have two fluffy Samoyeds and I encouraged employees to bring their dogs in as well.

“Stroking a dog is known to reduce stress and increase wellbeing, releasing vital mood-boosting hormones like serotonin and oxytocin into the bloodstream. 

“And I think that’s why, in our case, we’ve found a dog-friendly office is a stress-free office.

“I wanted to share this experience to help anyone who runs an office which is affected by stress. I do feel that dogs can play a big part in combating the work-related stress that most of us feel from time to time.”

The Cloud9 office and its staff are welcome to bring their dogs to work, with there already being office Labradors and Jack Russells, as well as Jackson’s two fluffy Samoyeds, Shaska and Bear, all of whom have found a welcome home within the team.

But the dog-sharing didn’t stop there. The Cloud9 office is in a building with a number of healthcare providers, including breast cancer clinics. 

When Jackson realised what a great impact the dogs were having on the team’s mood, she decided to extend this initiative even further.

“I decided to offer the office dogs to some of the patients in the clinics below us, as a way of spreading the positivity throughout the entire building.

“I know that my dogs have an amazing impact on my mood, and I felt that patients who are in clinics for treatment might also benefit from seeing a friendly fluffy face.”

Since introducing the initiative, Jackson has witnessed real improvements in employee morale, stress levels and productivity. 

She added: “We all know our productivity levels fluctuate throughout the day, so having five minutes with a fluffy companion can help break up our workday and give us time to let our creative thinking flow.”

Four experts answer below;

Liz Villani, Founder, Be Yourself At Work:

Creating a working environment and culture where your employees feel comfortable and safe being their authentic selves to work is a crucial step to reducing stress, whether in the office or working remotely.

It is exhausting and stressful for people to feel they have to pretend to be someone else constantly. According to research we carried out last year, only 16% of people feel they can be themselves at work. Everyone else feels they have to adopt a fake persona – to be more professional, charismatic or simply to fit into the work environment. It is stressful and draining.

It is essential that everyone in a business – from leadership down – realises that de-stressing in the workplace can’t just be about using meditation apps from HR or waiting for quieter periods. The best way to de-stress a workplace is to create an environment and culture that enables employees to understand their values, pressure points and triggers.

In all organisations, there will inevitably be stress points between different teams and departments and, often, between different personalities. It is when we expect others to think exactly the same way as us and assume we share similar values that things tend to fall apart.

By helping colleagues and teams better understand themselves, where their challenges and issues lie, and how to empathise with each other, they can be better prepared to deal with unexpected and stressful situations. Teams are far less likely to catastrophise or fall out with each other.

As with all aspects of company culture, how stress is managed cascades down from the top. Only when leadership teams understand how to bring their authentic selves to work can they expect it to trickle-down to the rest of the organisation, allowing people to ditch that exhausting persona and truly be themselves at work.

Pete Sayburn, CEO of Studiospace:

At Studiospace, we help and encourage our team members to stay in tip-top shape in a number of ways:

– Ultra-flexible working – We’ve never really been a 9-5 type of business, so our team chooses where, when and how to work. We are globally dispersed and set our own schedules. The London team includes people who come into the office one, two or three days in a week from locations such as Hove, Gloucester and Tunbridge Wells and Hitchen, as well as from London boroughs. Our product team is distributed across five countries including the Netherlands, Hong Kong, India and Australia.

– Active lifestyles – Many of our team love to exercise and stay active during working days.  We bike, run, walk and spin together, as well as solo, and we make this a fun part of our routine. We make healthy eating a core pillar of our working days too and always provide plenty of nutritious snacks and drinks in our offices.

– Space to let go – While in the start-up phase, work is pretty intense, but we also recognise the need to let go and de-stress. Our team members have chosen different outlets for this including volunteering, sailing, property renovation and triathlon training. These all take your mind off work for a few hours at a time and enable you to come back stronger.

– Look after one another – We are a tight team and always find time to check and make sure that everyone is OK. Sometimes just a quick conversation or the ability to tell someone in the team that you’re having a tough day is enough to get you through it.

Chris Bennett, MD of Evora Global:

There is a danger of remote-first working making employees feel isolated. It relies on maturity in each individual to balance their needs for convenience of work versus social connection, and that maturity is not always a given and can take time to develop. Part of the issue is also line managers and colleagues not always being aware of the sense of isolation.

The presence of mental health first aiders is a good way to help mental health for remote workers. We also have a vibrant range of groups that work on social activities, health and wellbeing activities and other ways of connecting people such as via our music exchange, book exchange and climbing groups.  

Silos become inevitable with remote working when you get to higher staff numbers where employees work on specific projects. The different interest groups help to create connections across the organisation, as will matrix arrangements such as more fluid project groups. People need to feel they belong somewhere, whilst also having a range of work and more social engagements.

It’s always great if people can start their work on-site, so they feel physically connected for the initial experiences. We have a range of induction sessions that help plug people in across the business, as well as regular all-company meetings that bring people together. We are also looking at having learning cohorts so that people can forge strong connections in that initial learning phase.

For managers, keeping the team connected is a balance of structure and connection. Try to have occasional to regular days when you come together as a team in the same place, in addition to more regular remote catch-ups together – where it’s not all about work, but about who you are as people. Where possible, break up the routine with sessions out of the working zone that help to draw people back to the bigger picture.

James Tweed, Founder and CEO, Coracle:

We have a 24/7 helpline for staff. Because the Coracle team works with prisoners, many of whom come from troubled backgrounds, they have to be extensively trained and offered guidance and mentoring on how to handle those conversations. Most interactions are positive and good. However, bad days do happen, which is why I tell my team that I’m available to them 24/7 if they ever need a chat to unwind if they happen to have had a stressful day. 

We spent a day bringing in specialists for trauma informed training with the charity One Small Thing. This helped the team find out how to deal with some of the issues they can face day-to-day when working in prisons.

We talk a lot about psychological safety. People in an organisation often go with ‘group think’. If the loudest person says: ‘This is a good idea’, then most people will just agree and do it. It takes a lot of psychological safety to actually challenge decisions. But we know that everyone on the team has individual experiences of being in prison and sharing that information is key. That floor is very open and we share those experiences at our weekly meetings.

The attitude we have is to be curious but not judgemental. You can be curious about why we do something as a company. But not judgemental – we don’t want people saying something is a rubbish idea. But anyone can ask questions in total safety.

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