The Affordable Care Act was designed to reduce healthcare expenses, but it doesn't address costs caused by stress. Countless studies show stress increases the risk of health conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma. Stress can also weaken an employee’s immune system, making him more susceptible to colds, flu and other infectious diseases. Employers cannot rely on government policies to reduce the costs associated with stress– this can only be achieved through education and behavioral change.
Having been part of the New Benefits executive staff and responsible for company-wide work output for more than 20 years, I have seen how financial and emotional stress burdens employees who are struggling to stay focused and productive at work. Their stress continually pulls their attention away from their job. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t unique to New Benefits. A whopping 83% of Americans say they are “stressed out” at work, according to a recent Harris Interactive study. That percentage has gone up by 10% since 2012.
The Exorbitant Cost of Stress
Stress doesn't just affect the employee suffering from it—it also chips away at their employer’s bottom line. Companies with a stressed out staff often suffer from the following negative side effects:
- Skyrocketing Healthcare Costs: Stressed employees rack up 46% higher healthcare costs than their more relaxed co-workers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). An incredible 60% to 90% of doctor visits are attributed to stress-related illnesses and symptoms.
- Decreased Productivity: More than half (55%) of American workers admit to being less productive as a result of stress, according to the American Psychological Association. Many of these employees are anxious about their finances, which drains their time and energy on the job. According to a Society for Human Resource Management survey, 40% of American workers worry about personal finances at work, and 29% spend time dealing with their personal finances during work hours—up to three hours a week!
Easing the Tension
What can companies do to relieve some of this stress and keep employees healthy, productive and engaged at work? Employers can offer employee benefits that encourage health and financial wellness.
For example, New Benefits offers our employees an interactive wellness program which encourages behavioral changes to improve their physical, mental and financial health. This program features engaging tools for journaling, setting goals and tracking progress. As a result of this program, I have seen improvement in our staff’s stress awareness and morale.
Another stress-busting program employers should consider is telephonic counseling. I recently spoke with one of our brokers, Brian Kauffman with BOST Benefits, about how this benefit can diminish employee stress. He said, "Many times, employees dealing with stress and problems do not seek professional assistance because of cost and not knowing where to go. They are reluctant to ask friends or colleagues for referrals or assistance for fear of looking weak or incompetent. Counseling services eliminates both of those barriers. Employees can get a professional on the phone to assist them without any additional cost to them. Sometimes that's all it takes to relieve the pressure – talking through it with someone who can give constructive counsel. This is good for employees and employers alike."
To combat financial stress, employers should also offer a budgeting program. Because employees often don’t know where to begin with creating a budget, it’s important to provide a tool that begins with a budget template instead of a blank page. Employees stand a better chance of reducing financial stress when they carefully track their spending through such a program.
When an employer offers these types of benefit programs, workers will spend less time feeling stressed on the job and more time focusing on their work. This leads to higher productivity, enhanced engagement and happier employees—which all comes together to boost a company’s bottom line.
-- Marti Powles, COO
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