How people manage their own stress

Recently, I carried out some research, asking people how they manage their own stress or anxiety at work. I invited them to share ALL of the techniques or approaches that they use, good and those perceived to be ‘bad’ (eg alcohol!). The results were really interesting, and provide some insight into how organisations and people managers can help their team members to manage their own stress. From the c70 participants 250+ stress-relieving responses were received, and these have been grouped into a number of categories. The most popular categories were Hobbies, Mindset and Exercise.

3. Hobbies

Hobbies came in as the third most popular way in which employees manage their stress. This included a range of activities from cooking to reading to dancing. Some found it relaxing to do chores, others enjoyed word games or shopping. The social interaction and physical effort varied across the remit of the group, but in all cases, hobbies were seen as a great way to switch off from work and focus the mind on other things.

What can people managers do? It might be the case that hobbies are nothing to do with what happens in the workplace, and the use of them as a stress reliever suggests that they should remain very separate. However, people managers can still play an important role here they can:

  • Be curious about their team members’ hobbies, show an interest, and recognise an individual’s achievements in this area.
    Encourage the commitment to those hobbies. Acknowledge and encourage employees to make time for their hobbies, promote their experiences and achievements through internal communications.
  • Enable space at work for people to practice their hobbies. Provide a small quiet space where people can read or do word games or knitting during breaks. Have a bake off to encourage those with cooking skills to practice and share their skills, or hold a show case so that others can experience the stress relieving qualities of the hobbies of others.
  • Leave them to it. Not everyone will want to shout about their hobbies. Recognise that some people would prefer to keep it to themselves – acknowledge that that’s ok too.

2. Mindset

Our second most frequently used stress reliever was all about mindset. In this category, participants talked most about having a positive mindset, keeping things in perspective, thinking about the bigger picture and the future, and some mentioned using Mindfulness (having had training or self-learning) as their chosen technique. How can managers help?

  • Use coaching techniques to encourage a positive mindset. Challenge negativity and provide timely and constructive feedback. Use some great open questions to help employees to re-frame their concerns. And most importantly, listen to what they have to say.
  • Communicate openly about the future, about the bigger picture and about purpose. Making connections for people between what they do and what it could mean for customers, suppliers or other stakeholders can be engaging and can help people focus and add value.
  • Encourage learning about mindfulness and advocate its practice. This could be through a formal training programme or self-learning – there are plenty of books, audios, online resources etc – or look to my friend Justin Standfield and his blog (and fantastic training) at for some simple top tips and the benefits of Mindfulness for individuals and business.

1. Exercise

Exercise came out as the most frequently quoted stress reliever for participants. The nature of exercise varied, from the gym to yoga, but with simply walking (often with the dog) as the most popular choice. How can employers support this?

Whilst many employers opt for providing gym facilities, or subsidising health club membership, the costs of this may be prohibitive to smaller companies or to non-profit organisations. However more and more we see fitness experts encouraging the use of non-cost exercise – so money or lack of facilities doesn’t need to be a barrier. At minimal cost, employers could:

  • Encourage employees to take walking breaks, providing information about local walking routes from the office that could take 15 – 30 – 60 minutes. Promote ‘taking a walk’, encourage people to take a break from their desks at lunchtime – or anytime they feel they need a break – and managers should set an example by doing it themselves.
  • Set up walking groups – this could encourage good collaboration and cross team support, as well as the stress relieving and health benefits of taking a walk.
  • Introduce ‘walk and talk’ meetings, so that instead of discussing things in an office space, meetings take place in fresh air.

In 50 Tools for Employee Wellbeing, I have provided a range of tools, including some of those mentioned above, that help organisations build and maintain resilience, health and happiness among their employees. Organisations of all sizes can take some actions and implement some ideas that can promote and encourage wellbeing without incurring significant cost. Each tool includes guidance on when to use it, how long it will take and how to get the most out of it. Most importantly, the book explains how to measure the impact of each tool to show what’s working and where efforts are best focused.

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