Helping employees achieve resiliency

When I was a high school teacher, I used to compare the end of the school year to going over a waterfall. You’re floating down the river with your gear neatly organized in your boat. Then, all of a sudden, you’re falling. Everything you’ve so neatly put together is flying through the air around you.

Luckily, in this metaphor, you land safely and reach calm waters. Yet you still need to reassemble your gear and make a plan to get back in the stream of things.

For many in the workforce, this is how the end of the calendar year feels. Year-end deadlines combine with the added pressure of family holidays, gift giving and social functions. It’s no wonder that four of the words most often overhead in the office are: “I am so stressed.”

Stress — a global epidemic for workers

The World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.”1 One-fourth of U.S. employees currently view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.2

In general, Americans are working longer and harder. According to government reports, the average number of hours worked has increased eight percent to 47 hours per week, over a single generation. With commutes also getting longer, it’s easy to understand why work stress is a challenge.

The role of resiliency

All of this makes it a good time to think about resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to cope well and bounce back from difficult situations. In other words, learn how to survive the waterfall and get back in your boat.

Common wellness practices and lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy, exercising, sleeping well and having strong social bonds, can help your workers become more resilient.

But my new favorite resiliency-building activity is called “green time” — that is, time spent outdoors. A recent study on greenspace exposure reported many benefits to getting outside, including improvements in cardiovascular health.

Trading screen time for green time

As the days get shorter and daylight becomes scarce, how can we help our workers trade screen time for green time? Employers may want to consider ways to encourage outdoor activity during the day. This could include:

  • Walking meetings
  • Decorating outdoor spaces for the holidays
  • Partnering with facilities to make outdoor spaces available and accessible, even in colder weather

Use your established communications channels to remind your employees that while the waterfall of stress and change may leave them feeling lost, resiliency can always help them get back on course.

To learn how Optum can help you foster resiliency at your business, please visit

Also, feel free to add your comments below about what has worked for your company to help manage employee stress.

About the author:

Heather MacAyeal Hardy 2Heather MacAyeal Hardy, CHC AADP
Director, On-Site Health Promotion and Wellness Coaching, Prevention Solutions

Heather is a certified health and wellness coach and the product director for Health Promotion and Wellness Coaching for Optum® Prevention Solutions. She leads the product innovation and engagement capabilities. Under her product capabilities, on-site staff help our customers enhance their consumer health engagement and company culture to drive health ownership through thoughtful and engaging solutions to influence positive behavior change that ultimately affects our client’s population health. Heather joined the On-Site Services team in 2014 and has served both as a coach and health promotion specialist in the field prior to taking on the product leadership role. Her work with opioid awareness campaigns and corporate wellness strategy has earned her clients local and national recognition.

1 World Health Organization. Accessed November 2018.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stress at work. Accessed November 2018.


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