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Is Workplace Stress Affecting Your Employees' Health?
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Is Workplace Stress Affecting Your Employees' Health?

Here’s what workers and bosses say, and what employers can do to keep workers healthy and productive.

I always laugh when another new survey comes out about stress in the workplace and its impact on employee productivity, health and well-being. What percentage of surveyed employees is stressed? What’s causing the stress? How are they coping with stress?

The question I would ask is, “Who’s not stressed at work?” I would study those three people, find out what their secret is and share it with the world.

Until then, here’s the latest intelligence on stress at work, how it’s affecting employee health and what employers are doing—or should be doing—to improve workers’ state of mind to keep them on the job and doing what you want them to do.

National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health recently teamed up to produce a benchmark report on workplace and employee health. Aptly named The Workplace and Health, the 76-page report is based on a representative sample of 1,601 adults working 20 hours or more, either running a company or working for someone else (bit.ly/29P4lRy).

Only 16 percent of the respondents said their job is “bad” for their overall health. Fifty-four percent said their job is not affecting their health, and 28 percent said their job actually is “good” for their health. But those numbers changed when workers were asked about how their jobs were affecting specific aspects of their lives that greatly influence their health status.

Topping the list was stress:

  • 43% said their job was negatively affecting their stress level.
  • 28% said their job was negatively affecting their eating habits.
  • 27% said their job was negatively affecting their sleeping habits.
  • 2% said their job was negatively affecting their weight level.
  • 17% said their job was negatively affecting their social life.
  • 17% said their job was negatively affecting their family life.

Not surprisingly, the percentage of employees who said their job was stressing them out rose with the number of hours they worked per week. It was 31 percent for those who worked 20 to 29 hours per week, 39 percent for those who worked 30 to 34 hours per week, 41 percent for those who worked 35 to 49 hours per week, and 57 percent for those who put in 50 hours or more per week.

The connection between workplace stress and employee workload was echoed in a report from Willis Towers Watson, the insurance broker and benefits consulting firm. Some 75 percent of the 487 U.S. companies recently polled by the firm as part of its Global Staying@Work Survey said stress was their top health and productivity concern (bit.ly/29fCt9V).

Sources of stress

Employers and employees, though, had slightly different opinions on the leading causes of workplace stress. The top three causes, according to employees, were:

  • 1. Inadequate staffing.
  • 2. Low pay.
  • 3. Company culture.

Their bosses said the top three were:

  • 1. Lack of work/life balance.
  • 2. Inadequate staffing.
  • 3. Technologies that expand availability during nonworking hours.

OK, your employees are stressed, you know why—now, what are you doing about it? Well, according to some other research, not a whole heck of a lot at this point.

A recent report from the Society for Human Resource Management on employee benefit trends found that the number of employers offering their workers on-site stress-reduction services as a wellness benefit dropped to 6 percent this year from 11 percent in 2012. The 88-page report is based on annual surveys of HR professionals conducted by the SHRM for the past 20 years. This year’s results are based on answers from 3,490 respondents (bit.ly/2c1lkBf).

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However, help may be on the way in 2017. A survey of 133 large employers by the Washington, D.C.-based National Business Group on Health found that 15 percent said they plan to offer on-site mental health counseling to employees next year (bit.ly/2aD3hzc). Improving the “emotional/mental well-being” of workers was the third-most important health priority cited by the companies in 2017 after “physical well-being” and “improving employees’ engagement in health care decision-making.”

Of all the things employers can do to reduce workers’ stress level, the most effective may be giving them more control over their work schedules. That’s the takeaway from a study headed by a researcher from the University of Minnesota (bit.ly/2c3XrHy).

The study, published in the American Sociological Review, looked at the impact of a work program that gave half of about 900 information technology workers at a software company more control over their work time. They were allowed to do things like shift their schedules, work from home and be more selective about the daily meetings they attended. The initiative “reduced burnout, perceived stress and psychological distress, and increased job satisfaction.”

Until more companies adopt that enlightened view of improving productivity by reducing employee stress, your business can always do what 18 percent of the companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management did this year. They installed on-site blood pressure machines.

David Burda (twitter.com/@davidrburda, dburda@msp-c.com) is editorial director, health care strategies, for MSP-C, where he serves as the chief health care content strategist and health care subject matter expert.

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