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.
9. Find 20 minutes to joke around
Laughter is the best medicine, even in small doses. Spending 20 minutes watching a funny video or laughing together decreases stress and increases memory recall. So set aside some time for your team to kick back and share their favorite jokes over happy hour, or if your business has the space, host a formal comedy night. Invite everyone to dress up for a team “tacky day” and vote on who can come up with the most ridiculous costume. Whichever way you decide to add some fun into the day, keep the 20 minutes going. Continue searching for different activities that your employees enjoy doing together and give them the chance to relax and bond over something fun outside of work.
10. Practice the “6 for every 1” rule
Think back to the last time you gave an employee critical feedback. Now think back to the last time you gave them some praise. Most likely, the negatives stand out more than the positives—and they do for your employees too. A little negative feedback can go a long way and have a more lasting effect than a casual “job well done.” In fact, researchers have found that the biggest indicator of a team’s success isn’t necessarily their expertise or skillset. It’s their ratio of negative to positive comments to each other. On average, the most successful teams provide 6 positive comments for every single negative one.
That may seem like a lot, but like in the exercise above, negative comments tend to be the ones we internalize and recall the most. Instead, challenge your team to bring some positivity into all their interactions with coworkers and put the “6 for every 1” rule into action. They may find that it’s easy to come up with criticism, but compliments take more intention. They’ll strengthen their bonds with each other, kicking off a positivity trend that may continue long past April.
11. Volunteer together
Giving back doesn’t just affect others. It can impact your team’s own lives as well. Volunteering in your community has been shown to reduce stress and promote better mental health by decreasing feelings of isolation and depression. It can also lead to a longer life and promote stronger team building, at very little cost. Get in touch with your local food pantry or soup kitchen and schedule a day to bring your team in to help serve. If the weather’s nice, pick a neighborhood park to sponsor and get in on the spring cleaning. Your team will have a chance to problem solve and get to know each other outside of work while contributing to a greater cause.
12. Play it forward
Take volunteering to the next level by sending your team on a “play it forward” scavenger hunt. Here’s how it works: come up with a list of surprise ways to pay it forward (that don’t take a lot of extra cash) and divide employees into groups. It could be paying for person’s coffee behind you in the Starbucks line, leaving an encouraging note for a stranger, or calling a friend to tell them how much they mean to you. Whichever group can complete as many good deeds or random acts of kindness within a certain time period wins.
13. Do Theme Day Fridays
Is there something your employees are incredibly passionate about? A deep-seated sports rivalry or a favorite band? If your employees wear a uniform, give them a day to show off some more personality. Invite everyone to rep their favorite team or dress up as their favorite superhero, and hold a vote for different costume categories, like “Most Realistic” or “Best Group Costume.” And it doesn’t have to be just one day of the month—you could do a different theme each day for one week or institute “Theme Day Fridays” every week.
14. Hold a hackathon
Hackathons aren’t just for software developers or large companies. More and more businesses are leveraging this team-building activity to spark creativity and promote cross-team collaboration. All you need is an idea, a workspace, and some fuel to keep you going. Think about a current challenge your business is facing or a business goal. You may be looking for creative ways to get more foot traffic during Small Business Month in May, recruiting more seasonal hires, or looking to add some new items to the menu.
Decide what problem or goal you want your team to solve for during the hackathon, divide them into smaller groups, then watch them go. At the end of the day, each group will pitch their business idea, and the group with the best idea wins the hackathon. But ultimately, everyone wins—there aren’t any right or wrong solves when it comes to a hackathon, and your team will have had the chance to collaborate and plug into the business in a real and tangible way. Plus, you’ll likely find yourself with a backlog of awesome ideas for months to come.
15. Switch things up
Everyone can start to feel run down by the day-to-day. Bring back some spontaneity by giving your employees a chance to mix things up in their work routines. Assign them to a different role or incorporate a new skill into their daily tasks. If they’ve been working behind the scenes in the kitchen and want more time on the floor, have them shadow another employee already doing the role for their shift, and vice versa. Choose a quiet time of day for this role swap so that they’re able to practice in a low-stress environment. It’ll help them have a better understanding and appreciation for their coworkers, as well as a look into how everyone keeps business running smoothly.
16. Give them time for passion projects
Similar to a role swap, give your employees a set bucket of hours this month to devote to passion or side-of-desk projects. Ideally, these should be business-related but may not fall under their everyday job description. At the end of the month, bring your team together for a group share out with the outcomes or updates from their work.
17. Have a Drink Talk Learn party
As recently popularized on Twitter, sometimes all a good party needs is a good PowerPoint. Instead of showcasing what they’ve done at work, a Drink Talk Learn party lets employees share a more about who they are and what interests them outside of operating hours. There are a few formal rules, like keeping your presentation under three minutes, but employees can put together presentations on just about anything (as long as it’s work appropriate). Expect laughter, an unexpected lecture, or simply the chance to get to learn more about each other.
18. Ask for their honest feedback
One of the hardest things about tackling employee stress is that you may not even realize its existence. Different people handle stress in different ways, so it’s important to know how your employees are feeling before they burn out or hit a breaking point. Set aside some time this month to talk to each employee one on one, and not just a five minute check-in. Ask how they’re doing and dig for a real answer. Ask them what could be better for them at work. And in the end, make sure they truly feel heard and understood, but give your honest feedback. After all, employees don’t leave companies—they leave managers. If they raise issues, put together a plan for next steps and discuss how they’d like to see them addressed.18 Ways to De-stress & Re-energize Your Team Grace Madlinger