Stress management in EAPs: Exploring holistic approaches to reducing workplace stress

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The TL;DR:
  • Workplace stress is one of the leading causes of poor mental health, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism among employees.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs) help to address workplace stress by identifying stress triggers and offering practical stress management strategies.
  • However, alternative EAP providers (like Sonder) go one step further, taking a preventative approach to employee stress by empowering employees to develop healthy lifelong habits that proactively safeguard against moments of crisis.
Employees face a number of challenges in the workplace, from managing competing deadlines to handling difficult conversations. But out of all the challenges they'll encounter, stress is one of the most common and can have the biggest negative impacts, too.

Recent research from Work Safe Australia reveals that mental stress ranks in the top four serious claims for work-related injuries-accounting for 8.5% of all claims in 2021-22. The good news? Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have a powerful role to play in stress management, helping to foster happier, healthier and more resilient teams.

This blog explores the multifaceted nature of workplace stress and why most employers are turning to alternative EAP providers (like Sonder) to take a preventative approach to stress at work.

Understanding workplace stress

Workplace stress is a widespread issue affecting employee wellbeing and productivity. The causes of workplace stress are incredibly varied, including long hours, a demanding workload, inflexible deadlines and even a lack of support or appreciation from managers.

Interestingly, the mental health of Australian workers has changed over the past 20 years, particularly declining in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to research by the Black Dog Institute, more than 30% of workers aged 18 - 34 have reported worse mental health symptoms since the pandemic (double the levels reported in 2017).

The same research found that mental health-related compensation claims are proving more complex, resulting in employees taking longer to recover and return to work, too.

The most common reasons for work-related mental stress in Australia are:

%
work pressure
%
work-related harassment and/or bullying
%
and workplace violence
Pie graph demonstrating data from Sonder’s research report on the impact of workplace stress on work performance.

According to our survey, 63% of employees said stress had a large or moderate impact on their work performance. But addressing workplace stress isn't as simple as offering a limited number of counselling sessions following a crisis event. Instead, the most effective approach is to tackle the root cause of workplace stress with the ultimate goal of preventing, rather than treating, the causes of stress at work.

The role of EAPs in stress management

EAPs can help manage stress within the workplace. These programs can provide employees with various services designed to help manage and reduce stress, with the ultimate goal of fostering a healthier work environment.

In the case of traditional EAPs, stress is addressed through a range of support services, including:

  • Confidential counselling: Offering a safe space for employees to discuss personal and workplace stressors without fear of judgement.
  • Stress management resources: Providing tools and strategies, such as mindfulness techniques and time management advice, to help employees cope with stress.
  • Tailored, 1:1 support: Employees are able to work directly with counsellors to bring up any issues or challenges that are causing stress, ensuring they're gaining strategies and management techniques that are most relevant to their unique situation.

However, traditional EAPs tend to be limited in their effectiveness as they focus on individual coping mechanisms, rather than holistically addressing the myriad of factors that may be contributing to workplace stress. EAP utilisation rates also tend to be low, limiting the amount of people that can be helped.

Studies have shown that EAPs tend to have stronger impacts on reducing psychological distress among employees when individual interventions (like 1:1 counselling) are combined with organisational-level improvements (such as introducing policies to support worker's psychological health and safety).

Identifying the causes of stress in the workplace

At Sonder, we know that many of our members experience stress. One of our in-app self-assessments is the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21), designed to measure the emotional states of depression, anxiety and stress in our members. 40% of our members, on average, across a range of different roles and industries, returned a 'concerning or very concerning' stress score on that assessment between December 2022 - February 2024.

Sonder data also tells us that the causes of stress are multifaceted. When looking at the thousands of Sonder member cases between January 2022 - February 2024, when a member reached out for support mentioning stress, only 11% were noting stress alone.

Pie graphs showing data from Sonder members on their stress levels

There are a multitude of other factors that can spark or contribute to stress at work, including:

  • Workload and deadlines: Unreasonable deadlines and overwhelming tasks can lead to chronic stress.
  • Work environment: Poor working conditions, workplace bullying and interpersonal conflicts contribute significantly to employee stress.
  • Work-life balance: Difficulty in balancing work demands with personal life can exacerbate stress levels-particularly in roles where answering calls and emails and joining meetings outside of typical business hours is the 'norm'.

Want to learn more about the impacts of stress in the workplace? Download our report, packed with insights from 2,000+ employees about whether self-reporting stress needs psychological interventions.

Dr Jamie Phillips, Medical Director at Sonder, quote on workplace stress

Strategies to cope with stress

Effective stress management within the workplace involves a combination of individual strategies and organisational support. Implementing a variety of coping mechanisms can help reduce stress levels and enhance overall employee wellbeing.

Some practical steps you can take to tackle workplace stress among your people includes:

  • Time management: Empower your team with techniques, strategies, and 1:1 support to help individuals prioritise tasks efficiently. Plus, ensure managers and leaders set realistic deadlines to alleviate work-related stress.
  • Culture of collaboration: Foster a psychologically safe work environment that encourages team members to speak up, flag capacity issues and tackle issues early.
  • Support systems: Providing access to support services, such as EAPs or EAP alternatives, aids in managing stress, giving employees tangible ways to identify, manage and respond to key stress triggers inside and outside of the office.

Sonder: A proactive approach to workplace stress management

Sonder is revolutionising workplace stress management by offering a holistic and integrated approach to employee wellbeing. Our prevention-focused EAP alternative means we focus on early interventions to actively prevent crises before they cost you-or your people.

Our all-in-one mobile app ensures your employees have 24/7 access to support, meaning care is delivered exactly when your team needs it (inside or outside of business hours).

When it comes to workplace stress, we focus on prevention by offering:

  • Wellbeing resources to foster healthy stress management habits in just a few minutes each day.
  • Self-care alerts, tools, content and resources to empower individuals to take their mental health and stress management into their own hands.
  • Immediate assessments allow members to chat with a Sonder care specialist in seconds, anytime of the day or night.
Sonder member support spanning self-help resources and instant, expert care

Sonder members can go from a financial wellbeing article, to a stress assessment, to a conversation with a registered nurse in a matter of minutes. The intuitive design encourages exploration, helping employees uncover and address their interconnected challenges before they become complex health crises.

"I've had access to Sonder for a few years now. I have gone through a few things in my life, and I tap into the wellbeing library often. It's helped me take the lead on my own wellbeing, and whilst I've never needed to talk to someone, just knowing it's there if I need it gives me a lot of peace of mind to know there's someone there"

- Sonder Member

The way forward with Employee Assistance Programs and their alternatives

Want to learn more? Dive deeper into the world of EAP alternatives and discover how they can transform your organisation with our ultimate EAP buyer's guide.

  • Learn how to compare vendor offerings
  • Discover what makes EAP alternatives different
  • Gain insider tips and statistics
  • Write a convincing business case

Want to learn more?

Ready to experience a modern approach to employee care? Contact Sonder today to discover how our platform can benefit your organisation.

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