In an exclusive interview, best-selling author Peter Hanson, MD, talks HR, stress, and modern life.
Physician and author of The Joy of Stress Peter Hanson, MD, puts stress into perspective. While it’s true that we are faced with an explosion in technology, a fast-changing world, a rapidly evolving healthcare system, and challenges balancing work and family, he reminds us that our forefathers dealt with life-threatening plagues, famine, and environmental dangers. “Our ancestors were being attacked by wild animals, while we complain because we our Wi-Fi is slow,” he says. When you think about it that way, he suggests, our stresses seem eminently manageable.
There is much HR can do to help employees manage stress and even channel it into innovation and productivity. This just requires a little time and creativity. Dr. Hanson offers.
Consider some kind of group exercise activities. “This not only contributes to better health and less stress; it also is a way to increase teamwork and staff bonding,” he says. This can be as simple as lunchtime walking teams or setting up a makeshift bowling alley in a hallway. He says, “When you make fitness fun and convenient, people are more likely to get involved; and it can lead to other healthy choices and lifestyle changes.”
Turn the pyramid upside down. Let employees help drive change and identify solutions to problems, he says, adding, “Don’t just solicit suggestions. Act on them. Give prizes and awards for good ideas.”
Value human resources. “People should be considered a resource. They are the gold in the ground, and you need to harvest it. You need to nurture and grow a strong crop of people to have the best outcomes,” says Dr. Hanson. Celebrate successes, good deeds, and accomplishments every chance you get. For example, he notes, “When NASA started the mission to put a man on the moon, they had models of the landing module everywhere. They had an amazing team spirit that was shared in newsletters, meetings, bulletin boards, and elsewhere. You need to make celebrations and recognition a part of daily life, part of the heartbeat of your organization.”
Encourage workers to have a work-life balance. Dr. Hanson says, “Urge your team to develop non-work-related interests and unplug from negative things.” Support these efforts by cheering them on when they run a marathon or inviting them to share their musical or artistic skills with other workers and residents.
Don’t forget yourself. “While you’re taking care of others, don’t neglect your own needs and feelings,” Dr. Hanson says, adding, “Put the phone down for a half-hour every day. Find something that fills in that part of yourself you’re missing. You will have a hard time taking care of others if you don’t care for yourself.”
Don’t be afraid to try new things. As part of this, he adds, “Give yourself—and others—permission to fail. Don’t be afraid of looking foolish.” Nurture a culture where employees aren’t afraid to ask questions, seek additional training, or talk to someone if they are unsure how to do accomplish a task or handle a project.
In the modern world, stress is real and common. However, Dr. Hanson notes, “It seldom puts us in life or death situations like it did hundreds of years ago. We need to acknowledge stress as part of life, embrace its energy, and use that for creative problem-solving, team-building, and employee engagement.”