How Smart Employers are Dealing With Employee Stress

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Jul 8, 2010

I attended the annual WorldatWork conference outside Dallas in May, but for the life of me I don’t recall the people from Buck Consultants taking a survey of conference attendees on what they are doing to deal with stress in the workplace.

No matter, because it’s a great topic for a study. Not only is workplace stress a huge issue in general, but it has been an even bigger concern as employees and their managers struggle with the economy and getting things back on solid footing after the long recession.

According to the survey, titled “Stress in the Workplace,” employers seem to have a good understanding of the impact stress is having on their organizations and are responding in various ways with various strategies to combat it.

Major issues impacted by stress

“Most employers realize that a stressed-out workforce drives up health care costs,” said Barry Hall, principal at Buck Consultants, in a press release about the study. “Employers are responding by introducing numerous methods to combat the impact of work-related stress.”

The survey respondents at the WorldatWork conference (and they are HR professionals who specialize in compensation, benefit, and work-life strategies) pointed to three major workplace issues that are affected by stress. They are:

  • Health care costs – 82 percent of respondents indicate that their health care costs are significantly or moderately impacted by worker stress;
  • Absenteeism – 79 percent report significant or moderate impact;
  • Workplace safety – 77 percent cite significant or moderate impact.

Buck Consultants found that employers surveyed at WorldatWork have a variety of programs in place to help combat workplace stress. It found that nearly two-thirds of employers (66 percent) have implemented at least four programs intended to reduce stress. Some 22 percent have eight or more stress-reducing program in places, and only 7 percent of those surveyed say they don’t have any stress-reduction strategies or programs in place.

Top 10 stress-reducing strategies

So, just what are these stress-reducing programs that employers are offering to their workers? Here’s the Top 10 list:

  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have been implemented by 78 percent of survey respondents;
  • Flexible work schedules (offered by 63 percent);
  • Work/life balance support programs (46%),
  • Leadership training on worker stress (45%),
  • Online healthy lifestyle programs (45%)
  • On site fitness centers (43%),
  • Physical activity programs (38%),
  • Stress awareness campaigns (35%),
  • Financial management classes (30%),
  • Personal health/lifestyle management coaching (29%).

I was surprised by the variety of programs on this list, especially that 63 percent of those surveyed have flexible work programs in place. That struck me as an unusually large number given what I hear anecdotally in talking to HR professionals, and it gives me hope that perhaps more organizations are recognizing the real value that flexible work arrangements can have in employee engagement and productivity (and I’d love to hear more from those of you who are doing this).

“Employers increasingly realize they must address the rising tide of employee stress, and not just to improve employees’ well-being,” said Hall of Buck Consultants. “Those who ignore stress will take a hit to their bottom line, in higher costs and lower productivity.”

And that’s what it is all about, isn’t it? ANY program that can keep your company from taking a hit to the bottom is worth doing in today’s workplace, as all too many managers and HR professionals can appreciate. If your company isn’t actively engaged in at least a handful of these stress-reducing strategies listed here, my guess is that you will probably be seeing such a hit to the bottom line very soon if you haven’t already.

So, consider this survey a wake-up call that worker stress is a big issue that smart organizations are dealing with. Yours better be, too.