Three ways HR can combat workplace stress

by Miklos Bolza17 May 2016
In order to recognise and deal with stress amongst employees, HR has to approach the issue from three angles, Dr Rajeshree ‘Gina’ Parekh, director of health and corporate wellness for Asia and Australasia at Willis Towers Watson, told HRD.
“Interventions at an institutional level can be reactive, proactive, or enactive,” she said.
Reactive solutions pick up on the early signs of stress and teach employees how to relax and eliminate the tension.
“An example of this would be counselling through an employee assistance program. You are able to reach out to somebody and talk through it.”
Other reactive interventions include exercises such as yoga, meditation and tai chi, she added. Employees can practice these skills to reduce the impact of stress when it emerges.
Parekh continued onto proactive solutions, explaining that these help build internal resiliency amongst staff. This means forming an innate capability to take on stress and bounce back. Part of the population already has this ability naturally, she added.
“You know how you have a colleague that basically can hit a deadline and be cool as cucumbers?” she asked. “What we understand now is this is something that can be learned for the two thirds of the population that isn’t naturally resilient.”
Finally, enactive solutions are approaches HR can use to passively eliminate the cause of stress in the workplace, she said.
This can include aspects such as greater transparency about compensation, role clarity, stronger team support, better work/life integration, job security, a positive work culture, etc.
“When we go into an organisation and want to combat the causes of stress head on, we need to do a little bit of each of these to create a longer-term goal.”
For Asian companies, Parekh noted that many stress intervention strategies are reactive – that firms most commonly opt for an employee assistance program. This strategy may not be completely effective partly because it needs so many steps to work properly, she added.
“What it requires is that the individual employee recognises that stress is a problem for them, to really admit they need help, and then to pick up the phone or talk to someone and ask for help.”
In general, the take up rate for these programs is low too, she said, mostly because employees are embarrassed to seek support for something that they see is a sign of weakness.
“I actually think reactive solutions still have a role to play but what is missing are the more proactive and enactive approaches,” she said.
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