Through my experiences over the past year, I’ve learned the hard way that chronic stress is a silent killer, playing a key role in many significant health problems, including asthma, cancer, migraine flares, depression and heart disease. Because of this, it is likely that stress accounts for more than half of the country’s healthcare-related expenses.

New studies are released regularly that draw attention to the high levels of stress in America, especially in the workplace. For instance, according to the American Psychological Association, nearly a quarter of Americans that say that they feel like they are under “extreme stress” note that it is due largely to money, work and the economy. What’s more, a study by Right Management found that 92 percent of respondents have been more stressed out at work over the past five years than they were before the recession.

I’ve experienced the effects of chronic workplace stress myself. Just last year, I underwent lifesaving open-heart surgery to repair the complete to near-complete blockage in my four main arteries. Doctors linked the problem, in part, to stress that I endured earlier in my career.

As a result of this traumatic experience, I recently launched a campaign called, the Heart To Sole: Creating A Stress-Free America through my current company, Flip Flop Shops. The campaign’s mission is to help reduce stress levels, improve heart health, and support the American Heart Association’s My Heart. My Life.™ healthy living initiative.

Corporations need to begin making cultural changes to help employees work smarter and with less unhealthy stress. This, in turn, will actually increase their productivity and results.

If employers can put in the effort to make the following changes, workplaces across America will be much healthier environments:

  1. Implement casual dress codes at the office: To prove that what people wear to work directly correlates with their stress levels, Flip Flop Shops recently commissioned Alexander Babbage, one of the nation’s leading strategic consumer research firms, to conduct a study to evaluate the psychology of clothing and footwear’s impact on stress levels at work. We found that while stress in the workplace overall is high (71 percent reported moderate to high stress levels), those who dress casually or have no dress code are more likely to report lower stress levels. Weekly “casual days” at work are also beneficial, as 36 percent of the respondents described their stress level as lower on casual days.
  2. Implement health programs: Corporations should begin implementing heart health programs within their companies, such as mandatory annual stress tests (like a treadmill test or exercise test) for employees in order to detect potential heart health problems. In my case, the stress test was the only test that detected my heart disease, thus saving my life. Mandatory stress testing shows that, as a company, you care. It boosts morale and could potentially save a life. If companies provided access to annual stress tests for their employees and made them mandatory, it would save a ton of money in sick time and lost productivity.
  3. Get involved in health foundations: Business leaders should consider getting involved with the American Heart Association to educate themselves and their employees. Armed with the knowledge of what causes stress, companies can then take steps to evolve their cultures in ways that will reduce the stress levels at work. There are so many great tools and programs that companies easily implement to help reduce stress among their executives and other employees to create a healthier work/life balance.
  4. Consider a telecommuting policy: At Flip Flop Shops, we have more than 80 locations throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Guam, but have never had a corporate office and will never have one. I’ve tried the corporate office style and it doesn’t always work. While it might make sense for some companies, others notice a large increase in productivity and company growth by allowing employees to work in their own comfortable environment. It could be a good idea for company executives to at least have a conversation with their employees about methods to make this system work.

To sum up, what employers don’t often realize is that just because people appear to be busy, working more hours does not necessarily mean better productivity. I advocate for working smarter, not just harder. I firmly believe that a culture of health, balance and happiness can result in getting more done, in less time, with fewer resources. We have certainly proven that at Flip Flop Shops with the Live…Work…Play with Your Toes Exposed® mentality that we embrace and live by.

We’re pledging to help the nation create a more balanced lifestyle by “pacing” and not “racing,” both at home and in the workplace. To further increase awareness, we are urging companies to sign an online pledge committing to establishing “Flip Flop Fridays” in their workplaces in June, and donating $2 to the American Heart Association for every employee that wears flip flops each Friday throughout the month. If you are interested in donating to the American Heart Association on behalf of “the Heart To Sole: Creating a Stress-Free America” campaign, please visit https://www.facebook.com/FlipFlopShopsFanpage.