Dealing with workplace stress has seen its share of solutions. From altering workday modalities (telecommuting, flex shifts, shortened work weeks) to creating open work spaces, employers and HR seemingly have tried it all.
The technology industry is a case in point.
It has taken the lead in reworking what was once a 9-to-5 office into something more flexible and innovative, looking to attract emerging talent by setting up models for never-before-seen ways to build a less stressful workplace.
Yet, according to James Harris, an executive with CONCERN: EAP, an employee assistance and wellness services provider, “no matter what you do – you can try to minimize it, sweep it under the rug or ignore it – stress remains a constant, particularly among technology workers. It’s just a matter of degree.”
The stress of the modern workplace
Perhaps no region is more attuned to the post-Millennial changes in business models than Silicon Valley, where CONCERN: EAP has provided employee assistance services for over 30 years. According to Harris, Silicon Valley companies define what it is to be entrepreneurial, and are, for the most part, the template for modern day companies: innovative, risk-taking, agile.
While companies in the Valley are lauded for their product innovation and corporate culture, Harris says working there can be emotionally demanding.
“Having supported some of the Valley’s most iconic tech companies for over three decades, we know what it takes to support a diverse, driven workforce, where coping mechanisms can get stretched to -- and often past -- their limit,” Harris explains.
While many technology companies have been long celebrated as forward thinking by promoting an employee-friendly, team-oriented culture, factors such as harsh deadlines, global competition, market and technology changes, odd hours and real life intrude on work life, which can make it difficult to mitigate stress levels.
Historically, Harris says, even the heartiest programmer, the most intense marketing executive, or the multitasking mid-level staffer is expected do their work under deadline pressure while dealing with all the attendant pressures of today's hyper-connected workplace, where the line between work and personal life has all but vanished.
Moving beyond stress management
Looking to combat that trend, there has been a flood of mobile health apps that do everything from monitoring heart health and sleep to tracking moods and stress. For example, MoodHacker, Fit Star, Sleep Bug and The Mindfulness App, to name a few, are out there and downloadable.
Not surprisingly, many tech workers have been early adopters, particularly where these apps apply a “gamification” element. For instance, games that use biometrics designed to help players learn how to manage their stress outside of the game are gaining popularity.
Even so, the problem of stress persists, Harris says, adding that mobile health apps and games may be user-friendly and fun, but many are flawed in that they are self-administered and not proven to be effective. He says they produce numbers without support for real, lasting change. On top of this, many focus on tracking stress and problems, while relatively few enhance resilience and strategies that build on strengths.
Today, Harris’ firm is helping employers evolve beyond stress management by boosting resilience, which moves people from the use of tools to help fight stress when it spikes to strategies that pre-empt or mitigate stress through guided exercises and techniques.
Resilience -- or resilience training -- uses a range of evidence-based techniques to build the skills required to think clearly and perform optimally, even in high-pressure situations.
When done right, resilience training instills relaxation techniques (focused breathing, mindfulness exercises) and evidence-based strategies to promote quality sleep, an improved outlook, and anger management. The efficacy of resilience training comes in making technology workers more calm, focused, collaborative, creative, productive, engaged, and healthy.
“Resilience training’s goal is to understand what triggers stress, and to develop techniques to prepare for it when it occurs,” Harris says. “Resilience is about your ability to bounce back and deal with ongoing changes–and to become wiser and stronger.”