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A Better Way to Cut Workplace Stress

Cora Nucci, for HealthLeaders Media, November 18, 2013

Why Employee Stress Levels Matter
The Towers Watson report spells out clearly what HR professionals already know: "Employers are recognizing that health is a total business issue and a lack of it affects workforce performance." A few statistics compiled by the American Psychological Association [PDF] reinforce the point:

  • 74% of employees say work is a significant source of stress, and one in five has missed work as a result of stress.
  • 52% of employees say they have considered or made a significant career decision because of workplace stress, such as looking for a new job, declining a promotion, or leaving a job.
  • Job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs.

It's strategically important for employers to help workers manage the stress factors that cause absenteeism, productivity losses, and increases in healthcare costs.

Wellness Programs Aren't Helping
One tactic many employers have been trying is wellness programs that incent workers to make lifestyle changes such as weight loss and smoking cessation. The idea is that as the health of a workforce improves, the employer's costs for health insurance and lost productivity go down. There's just one hitch: wellness programs aren't really working. A few reasons:

  • Lack of a clear strategy
  • Lack of alignment between employer goals and employee goals
  • Poor data tracking
  • Lack of employee accountability
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