According to Statistics Canada, 23% of people over the age of 15 report that most days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful, and that number rises to 30% among the 35 to 54 age group.1

Research indicates that 62% of stressed employees identify work as the main source of stress.2

Stress is one of the most common challenges that employees face.  It’s also one of the most damaging.  Chronic stress can lead to burnout, headaches, sleep issues, and high blood pressure, and even serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and mental health issues.

Unmanaged stress can also have negative consequences in the workplace.  Employees who are stressed may find it difficult to focus on work, which results in reduced performance and productivity.  Research also suggests that stress may be contagious3,4, which means one stressed out employee can influence how his or her co-workers are feeling.

To further emphasize the importance of addressing stress, we can look at absenteeism.  In a given week, 500,000 Canadians are absent from work due to mental health issues5, and research indicates that workplace stress is a main cause of these mental health problems (34%).6

Employers are in a unique position to address stress and help reduce its effect on the workplace and its employees.  Employees who are able to manage their stress are healthier and happier, which means they can perform better.  So, what can you do?  Here are some ideas and activities you can incorporate into your wellness program.

Offer Stress Education

Many employees don’t do anything about their stress because they believe it’s normal and they aren’t aware of the negative health consequences.  This makes stress education extremely important in the workplace.  Employers can help employees better understand stress by offering opportunities to learn and implement practices that will help them manage stress and improve resilience.

  • Schedule guest speakers and workshops on stress management techniques, meditation and mindfulness.
  • Host regular lunch-and-learns focusing on various ways to manage stress.
  • Include stress management in your monthly wellness newsletter and offer tips and suggestions they can try at work and at home.
  • Provide helpful resources that employees can reference and offer information on where they can go for help if more one-on-one support is needed.
  • Implement stress-related challenges that teach healthy habits to help better manage stress. Choose topics such as self-care, physical activity, and meditation.

Enhance the Work Environment

Employees spend a lot of time at work, so the environment itself can contribute to stress if not designed properly.  We don’t always have complete control over the physical qualities of the office, but we can take steps to create a more stress-free space.  Consider the layout and characteristics and look for opportunities to improve how employees interact with their environment.  We often don’t put much thought into how our work space may be impacting our mood or ability to work efficiently.

  • Design welcoming spaces where employees can go during breaks or when they need a moment away from their desks. Try to include comfortable seating in an arrangement that promotes interaction.
  • Share positive messages to empower employees. Post a weekly inspirational quote on the office bulletin boards, include them on meeting agendas, or add them to employee screen savers.
  • Bring the outdoors in with natural light and indoor plants. If natural light isn’t possible, choose LED over florescent bulbs and consider “daylight” bulbs, which mimic natural light.
  • Encourage employees to personalize their work-spaces with photos, artwork, and potted plants.
  • Examine office ergonomics. Ensure employees have proper chairs and desk arrangements to avoid aches and pains, as well as screen filters to prevent glare that can lead to eye strain and headaches.
  • Minimize clutter in the office, and keep shared spaces organized and tidy so employees can easily navigate the office and find what they need.
  • Incorporate “active design”, which promotes physical activity by encouraging employees to move around the office rather than staying put at their desks all day. For example, cluster printers, copiers, and office supplies at a station rather than at employees’ desks.
  • Encourage employees to avoid caffeine – a natural anxiety booster – in the afternoon. Offer alternatives like decaf coffee, herbal teas, and berry or cucumber infused water.

Promote Work-Life Balance

A positive work-life balance helps reduce stress, and your wellness program can be an effective platform to facilitate that.  Examine general work practices and look for opportunities to eliminate stressors.  Promote a culture of wellness so employees know that being healthy and happy is important and valued by the company.  A strong culture of wellness helps to facilitate healthy habits in the workplace, support employee morale, and promote positivity, which are all helpful in reducing stress.

  • Review schedule policies and look for opportunities to be flexible. Incorporate flex hours and remote working options if they are possible.
  • Encourage employees to take advantage of personal health days when they are feeling stressed and need a break from the usual work routine.
  • Develop policies to support work-life balance such as mandatory vacations and limiting work and emailing on personal time when away from the office.
  • Establish strong communication between employees and management and among co-workers. Ensure employees know they are supported, so when they are unclear about expectations or begin feeling overwhelmed by an important work project, they know they can ask for clarification and help.
  • Incorporate physical activity into the daily routine. Include stretch breaks during meetings, start a lunch hour walking group, or offer onsite fitness classes or yoga sessions at the end of the workday.
  • Organize weekly “unplugged afternoons” when employees are encouraged to silence phones, sign out of email and shut down messaging system. This will provide an afternoon when they can tackle work without the usual digital distractions.
  • Surprise employees with stress-busting activities: adult colouring books in the breakroom, free onsite massages, smoothies served by management, or a healthy catered lunch. The idea is to add some fun to break up the day and remind employees that their well-being is important to the company.

Celebrate!  Recognize work accomplishments, mark employee birthdays and work anniversaries, and acknowledge personal achievements (e.g. quitting smoking or completing a marathon) and congratulate employees on exciting news like a new baby or new home!

Need some more assistance?

Get your FREE Corporate Wellness Membership 90-Day Starter Kit to get you started!  Employee Wellness Solutions Network can help you create a healthier culture resulting in a more profitable and successful workplace. Our memberships give you access to services including corporate wellness specialists, trainers and health coaches to help you create the best strategy for your organization.  To learn more about the memberships, visit Employee Wellness Solutions Network.


  1. Statistics Canada.  Table 13-10-0096-04.  Perceived life stress, by age group.
  2. Statistics Canada.  Susan Crompton.  What’s stressing the stressed?  Main sources of stress among workers.
  3. Sterley, T., Baimoukhametova, D., Füzesi, T. et al. Social transmission and buffering of synaptic changes after stress. Nat Neurosci 21, 393–403 (2018).
  4. Oberle, E. and Schonert-Reichl, K.A. Stress contagion in the classroom? The link between classroom teacher burnout and morning cortisol in elementary school students.  Social Science & Medicine 159, 30-37 (2016).
  5. CAMH.  Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics.
  6. Howatt, B.  Workplace stress a main cause of mental health issues, study finds.  The Globe and Mail, 2018-07-05.