Stress has been called “the silent killer.” Too much stress can lead to a myriad of problems, both physiological (such as high blood pressure and heart disease) and psychological (such as depression and anxiety). It can ruin bodies, damage relationships, and destroy lives. No wonder, then, that people are always looking for quick, easy ways to reduce stress in their lives.
Not surprisingly, studies show that people experience the majority of their stress in the workplace. A report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health highlights numerous surveys indicating that between 26% and 40% of workers find their jobs to be very or extremely stressful.1 Although these figures might seem bleak, new research shows that organizations can actually use stress to increase feelings of social connection, bond teams together, and add more meaning to work.
OXYTOCIN AND SOCIAL CONNECTION
In 2013 health psychologist Kelly McGonigal gave a fascinating TED talk titled “How to Make Stress Your Friend” in which she discusses the effects of oxytocin, the hormone released when a person is under stress. In addition to increasing feelings of empathy and making people more willing to help others, oxytocin is also good for the body, particularly the cardiovascular system. McGonigal points out:
“[A]ll of these physical benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social contact and social support. So when you reach out to others under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. 2”
What does that mean for business? It’s possible that by creating more social workplaces and encouraging employees to strengthen their connections with each other through social recognition programs, companies can actually help their people become healthier and cope with stress more effectively.
STRESS AND TEAM BONDING
According to author Shawn Achor (who has written extensively about happiness), stress might be the key to getting “employees to fall in love with their companies.” Using his experience in boot camp as an example, he writes that the military knows how to “create meaningful narratives and social bonds that people will talk about for the rest of their lives” and explains how this practice could be effective in any organization. 3 The key is to focus on the meaning behind the stress. Achor adds:
“[I]t’s important for companies to highlight the meaning involved in the stress they feel on a continual basis. We need to help our teams realize that stress is a group challenge, not an individual burden. And we need to connect the dots between meaning and stress in order to help individuals and teams excel. 4”
Although no workplace is stress-free, companies with social recognition programs that tie back to corporate values are in a better position to remind employees of the meaning embedded in their work experiences. A daily social recognition feed in which employees are recognized for their work (and to which their colleagues can add their congratulations) is a proven solution for connecting the dots and emphasizing team efforts. By magnifying the positive narratives that are generated through recognition moments, companies can change the way stress works in an organization and create the social bonds mentioned above.
Do you want more resilient employees who will be able to tackle stressful and challenging initiatives? New research on stress indicates that engaging and strengthening the social bonds within an organization and continuously communicating the greater meaning behind day-to-day work are two effective techniques for addressing workplace stress. By tackling stress head on, organizations can not only mitigate its negative effects but maximize its positive ones, too.
Sarah Payne writes for Globoforce, where she supports the marketing programs team in creating intriguing content for lead generation, presentations, and events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Steven Sauter et al. Undated. “Stress . . . at Work.” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 99–101. www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/pdfs/99-101.pdf.
2. Kelly McGonigal. 2013. “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” TED.com. www.ted.com/ talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend/transcript?language=en #t-603591.
3. Shawn Achor. 2015. “The Right Kind of Stress Can Bond Your Team Together.” Harvard Business Review. December 14. hbr.org/2015/12/ the-right-kind-of-stress-can-bond-your-team-together.