Stress Awareness Programmes at Work: 4 Pitfalls to Avoid in 2023

We all know stress is bad for us – and for business. Chief HR Officers from Fortune Global 500 companies quote stress and burnout as the main reasons for staff turnover in a recent survey by XpertHR. And research has reminded us again and again of the negative effects of prolonged stress on our emotional wellbeing, physical health, cognitive abilities and productivity

Yet stress levels keep soaring. In 2022, 1 in 3 people in APAC presented burnout symptoms – even higher than the global average of 1 in 4 – according to a study by McKinsey. Workplaces are naturally a source of pressure, but can they also become part of the solution? 

Employees certainly think they should. 56% of HR decision-makers say employee expectations for wellbeing support at work have gone up in the last year, according to a study by Unmind. But even as more companies introduce mental health apps, wellness challenges, and counselling services, only 2 in 5 employees feel that resources provided by their employer are enough to support their mental health.

How can organisations make sure they’re investing in stress awareness initiatives that employees actually benefit from – and appreciate? We help Fortune and Global 500 companies across APAC do this by running stress awareness programmes that dodge these 4 common pitfalls:

1.Stress awareness programmes that don’t target specific subgroups

Not all stress is created equal. Ask a parent, a leader, and a woman navigating menopause to list their top stressors, and they’re likely to name very different concerns. In the wellbeing sessions we run for working parents, for instance, parental guilt often comes up.

Top causes of parental stress

Could these parents benefit from a meditation app? Sure. But resources that cater to their unique pain points will make them feel better understood and cared for – and equip them with more relevant coping skills. In fact, one of our consistently best-attended sessions is: “Quality over Quantity: How to maximise your limited time with children”. 

Which subgroups need more targeted stress management support in your organisation? 

2. Stress awareness programmes that don’t speak to time-poor people

Highly stressed people tend to be time-poor. Any stress awareness initiative that acknowledges this is likely to resonate with busy employees. And the truth is, quick win strategies can make a big difference. A recent Stanford study found that only 5 minutes a day of cyclic sighing, a breathing technique we teach attendees in stress management sessions, is more effective at reducing stress than mindful meditation. 

A winning formula for the stress management programmes we help our clients implement is: 

  • Format: Live sessions to trigger a mindset shift + digital prompts to maintain engagement
  • Content: Achievable, expert-backed microstrategies that attendees can start implementing on the day
  • Messaging: Aim for progress, not perfection
3. Assuming that stress management is all up to the individual

Even when equipped with all the right coping strategies, external factors can make or break a person’s efforts to stay zen. Businesses must acknowledge the role that sustainable workloads, a positive work culture, and people-centred policies play. 

These are big issues to tackle, and they’re often beyond the remit of wellbeing, HR and DEI decision-makers.So which structural factors can you influence, and how?

We advise clients to turn stress awareness into a collective effort by doing two things: bringing managers into the conversation, and building empathy at all seniority levels. 

In a study by EY, 90% of workers said empathetic leadership led to higher job satisfaction. Compassion can buffer stress for both the giver and the receiver. A manager who acknowledges their team member’s challenges is less likely to find their actions triggering, while an employee who gets negative feedback from their manager will feel less stressed about it was communicated empathetically. 

Compassionate conversations, empathetic listening, emotional intelligence – are these skills you’re helping your employees develop?

4. Jumping on new trends before thinking it through

New corporate wellbeing trends and offerings are emerging at a dizzying pace, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s a blessing or a challenge for HR, DEI and wellbeing professionals. With so much noise, the right initiative for your organisation becomes a needle in a haystack. On the other hand, you don’t want to miss out on innovative solutions and get left behind!

Our recommendation is to keep your finger on the pulse, but think systematically and strategically about the resources you want to offer. Do they fit your culture? Where do they sit in your spectrum of resources? What else needs to be done in order for this resource to work?

To illustrate what we mean, let’s look at Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) programmes, which are quickly becoming popular in APAC. Before jumping onto it, have you asked yourselves:

  • If the role of MFHA reacting to high-risk cases, what are we doing to prevent them?
  • Are we doing enough to signpost people to the preventative resources we already offer?
  • When MFHA notice a problem, is there a culture where they feel comfortable to start a conversation?
  • Where does the role of MFHAs begin and where does it end?  
  • Who will support mental health first aiders themselves?

The riskiest thing about workplace wellbeing trends is to expect them to become a cure-for-all. If there’s an underlying lesson behind the pitfalls we’ve talked about, it’s that no standalone stress management resource will fill all the support gaps! Learning to talk about and manage stress at an organisational level takes thought-through, tailored efforts – and time.

Ready to tackle stress awareness at work in ways that actually resonate with your busy employees? Find out more about our employee wellbeing sessions and programmes or schedule a discovery call with us today.