The Surprising Way You Can Lower Employee Stress

Ozempic maker Novo Nordisk says their employees have incredibly low-stress levels. Let’s dive into those numbers — and how you can reduce stress in your business.

Can stressed employees do a good job at work?

Novo Nordisk, the company that makes Ozempic and Wegovy, certainly doesn’t seem to think so. According to CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, a stressed employee is an ineffective employee. According to QZ, he said at a recent company meeting that “I don’t think you could run a company if more than 10% of your employees are suffering from stress.”

Novo Nordisk’s internal numbers show that 13.8 percent of employees are suffering from stress. Frankly, this is an already low number. What exactly is Novo Nordisk doing? Have they landed on the secret for reducing employee stress?

Who is stressed at work?

The American Institute of Stress reports that 80 percent of Americans feel stress on the job, and 42 percent feel like their co-workers need help with their stress.

While the American Institute of Stress has good reasons to find stress everywhere (if no one was stressed, they would cease to exist) and Novo Nordisk has good reasons to downplay stress (all our employees are happy!), the truth about employee stress at the Ozempic maker probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Novo Nordisk’s annual report describes symptoms of stress rather than generalized stress. They define stress as “a situation where the employee feels tense, restless, nervous or troubled, or unable to sleep at night due to thoughts about their problems.” That’s a different question than “Do you feel stressed?”

It’s difficult to compare apples to apples when different organizations use different definitions. Because Novo Nordisk’s definition focuses on symptoms rather than feelings, they get a lower number.

Clearly, it’s not some magical Novo Nordisk drug that reduces stress–or even some sort of Scandinavian magic. Novo Nordisk is headquartered in Denmark, but even employees in that region are stressed. The Gallup State of the Global Workforce report for 2023 shows that 39 percent of European employees experienced stress during the previous day. While Gallup didn’t break the data out by country, it’s unlikely that Novo Nordisk employees are spectacularly less stressed than others in their regions.

What fixes stress at work?

Even if there is no secret sauceyou can do things to make life less stressful for your employees, such as providing nap pods and foosball tables. But Gallup found another, more surprising way to reduce stress: engaging your employees.

Fifty-six percent of employees who are disengaged at work feel a lot of stress, Gallup foundcompared to 30 percent of engaged employees.

That’s a huge difference.

Even more interesting? Engagement is a bigger stress reducer than remote work. That’s right–engaged on-site workers are less stressed than disengaged remote workers.

How do you improve employee engagement at work? A Harvard Business Review article outlines a helpful checklist:

  • “Connect what employees do to what they care about.”

  • “Revise your organization’s mission statement to connect with employee values.”

  • “Show how an employee’s work is related to the organization’s purpose.”

  • “Encourage and fund employee resource groups (ERGs) that represent diverse interests and goals.”

  • “Make the work itself less stressful and more enjoyable.”

  • “Offer employees the flexibility to try new work tasks so they can discover their intrinsic interests.”

  • “Grant employees more autonomy.”

  • “Boost employees’ sense of confidence.”

  • “Create time affluence.”

  • “Reward employees with time in addition to money.”

  • “Encourage employees to ​​invest in time-saving purchases.”

  • “Implement tools that discourage after-hours emails.”

So, if you want to reduce stress, start with increasing your employee engagement. And don’t stress yourself out trying to be like Novo Nordisk. They are measuring stress differently than all these other surveys.


Photo by Anna Shvets