April kicks off the start of National Stress Awareness Month. In today’s workforce, more than a third of Americans experience chronic work stress, while only 36% report that they are provided the resources to help them manage their stress at work.
Employee stress isn’t just a personal issue. How your team feels at work can have a big impact on productivity, engagement, and even your bottom line—to the tune of over $300 billion a year in absenteeism and lost productivity for U.S. business owners. In contrast, taking steps to reduce employee stress can bring business up: happy employees are 20% more productive, and employee happiness has been shown to improve sales by 37%.
You don’t have to spend a lot of extra cash to show your employees you care. Here are 18 low-cost ways to bring your team closer together and reduce their workplace stress this month.
1. Scale back on the “tough love”
Everyone has their own management style, and as a small business owner, the pressure’s on to lead and succeed. However, if you generally take a hardline approach to your manager/employee relationships, you may be doing more harm than good: putting negative pressure on employees or showing “tough love” has been found to lead to higher levels of work-related stress, resulting in higher rates of employee turnover and poorer performance. Instead, focus on leading with empathy—and you may find your employees (and your customers) better for it.
2. Host a mindfulness workshop
“Mindfulness meditation” has been shown to reduce anxiety and even change your brain. Turns out the more you meditate, the less a stress hormone called ACTH may exist in your blood and the more gray matter you’ll add to your mind. You’ll be getting more piece of mind, literally.
You don’t have to shell out big bucks for a meditation guru or practitioner. Look in your local community or yoga center to see if any practitioners are currently in training and would like to earn additional hours through a community project. And if you can’t afford a teacher, you can also use a virtual one. Have your team download a meditation app like Headspace and set aside some time during the workday to walk through the exercises together. Your team can start to experience meditation’s effects in as little as 10 minutes.
3. Try some healthy (or healthy-ish) snacks
Snacks are a common perk in many workplaces and an easy way to show employees your appreciation. However, go-to work snacks like chips and candy can kill productivity and lead to sugar crashes. Switch things up and start rotating in nutritionist-approved options like almonds, jerky, and fruit. Or, treat your team to a snack box subscription for the month from health-conscious companies like Snacknation.
4. But don’t forget the chocolate
Chocolate makes people happier—it’s just hard science. But before you cancel your team’s snack box order and buy up candy in bulk, know that it’s only dark chocolate and only in moderate quantities. Eating 1.4 ounces of chocolate a day—a little less than one chocolate bar—has been found to reduce stress and anxiety compared to other foods. So while you’re introducing healthier work snack options, it’s still okay to treat your team to something sweet.
5. Take a plank break
It may sound counterintuitive, but taking breaks can actually help your employees work faster. Allowing them to step away from their work isn’t just a legal requirement—being able to focus on a different activity (even just for a few minutes) is a quick and easy way for anyone to recharge before diving back in. Even just five minutes will do. Use the break for a one-two punch and get your employees moving at the same time. Challenge everyone to a 30-second plank to start, then slowly work your way up each week. Why planks? They require no equipment and can be done almost anywhere. By the end of the month, see if your entire team can hold their plank for a full 5 minutes.
6. Get organized
When was the last time your team cleaned up their work station? Or the last time you really spruced up the office? Getting organized can increase energy, reduce stress, and reduce your risk of a heart attack. Now’s the time to tackle any deep cleaning or DIY projects on the to-do list. Set aside a few hours or an afternoon for everyone to help organize the stockroom or clean things up for spring. Let your employees be part of the process and find ways for everyone to contribute. If you have any artists in residence, think of a few DIY projects and let them get creative.
7. Host a team fitness challenge
We’ve all heard it—healthy diet, enough sleep, and exercise. Try asking any small business owner how they’re getting all three. But exercise can actually give your team an extra edge, helping them stay calm in stressful customer situations and better problem solve on their feet. Challenge your team to a month-long group fitness faceoff. Employees can compete based on time spent working out, miles run, or how many minutes spent exercising per week. Use a free workout app like Endomondo to check in on each other’s progress on a group leaderboard, and don’t forget to get in on the action and get moving yourself.
8. Invite over some furry friends
Like chocolate, it’s no coincidence that “happy” things have been scientifically proven to also reduce stress. Puppies and other pets fall in the same category. Just petting a dog can help lower blood pressure and feelings of depression. Reach out to your local shelter or animal rescue and see if they’d be willing to bring in a few friendly dogs for an hour or two. They’ll get a chance to socialize, and your team will experience all of the stress-relief benefits that come from man’s best friend.