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How stress affects quality of life (and why it matters)

Could work-related stress be affecting your team’s quality of life?

In all likelihood, yes, now more than ever. Whether your employees are working remotely, from the office, or from the frontlines, chances are your team members have some level of stress, and more often than not, at least a chunk of it has to do with work.

Because like it or not, work demands will occasionally come into conflict with our abilities, needs, and resources, and then poof! The emotional and physical response we call stress appears on the scene.

And that response impacts everything from our expectations at work, to how we perceive our positions and can even affect how we pursue goals, and the standards and value systems we live by, all crucial factors in our overall quality of life.

Why stress and quality of life matter

It may sound abstract and unimportant, but quality of life matters more than you might think at first blush—the effect changes in perceived quality of life has on individual employees can overflow into their families, and communities, professional and otherwise (Rossi, 2009).

Like pathogens, emotions can be contagious, and if someone on your team is feeling stressed and negative about their quality of life, other people in your office could catch it, too.

So it’s no surprise that stress at work is bad for business, seriously affecting the productivity of companies as well as the individual and incurring high costs in human suffering (never a good thing) and financial burdens (also negative).

And as much as we might want to deny its impact on our perceived quality of life, it makes sense for work-related stress to have such a strong impact. Since the majority of our waking hours during the week are spent working, we’re especially vulnerable to environmental factors that affect how we work, such as budget cuts, or institutional change that can influence our mental and social wellbeing.

An employee works in front of a screen with headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the sunset beyond him, potentially because of stress.

@flysi3000 via Unsplash

Stress has a real impact on quality of life…so what can be done about it?

What team leads can do about stress (and quality of life)

An important first step that team leads can take to manage stress on their teams is to prioritize open mental health talk on their teams. Not sure how to create a space where your employees feel comfortable sharing?

Start by being open about your own struggles with stress and wellbeing where appropriate. And lead by example when it comes to taking breaks (they really can help with stress) and disconnecting after hours (turn off those alerts).

Another major factor that team leads can address is when employees feel like they don’t have much agency or recognition in the workplace. In a study with over 4700 participants, low control (freedom to decide how to do my work and develop new skills) and/or low reward (adequate levels of support, salary, recognition for work, job promotion and job security) on the job were found to be associated with low quality of life for workers.

That’s why it’s so essential to reward your team’s efforts and give them the autonomy they need to feel like they’re at the helm.

A final way to support mental wellbeing and quality of life for staff is by making the move to incorporate stress-management techniques into your company culture. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, positive psychology, mindfulness and meditation all offer useful (and evidence-based) methods that companies (and their employees) can leverage to improve wellbeing in the office. Make stress easier to manage with access to practical wellbeing tools employees can use on the go.

What are some ways you protect your employee's work-life balance? We'd love to hear all about it at foundations@koahealth.com.