Want lower healthcare costs for your employees? Decrease Stress

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April 13, 2016 by Harry Stoll

We all experience stress on the job. It’s unavoidable and a natural part of life.  Most of us understand that appropriately managing stress on the job is paramount to our well-being. High stress levels have been linked to illnesses like depression, heart disease, alcoholism, and sleep disorders.  The alarming spike in the incidence of reported stress among employees in recent years and its impact on the bottom line has made the management of stress an urgent business strategy for American companies of all sizes.

According to statistics from the American Psychological Association (APA), an astounding two-thirds of Americans say that work is a main source of stress in their lives. Roughly 30% of workers surveyed reported ‘extreme’ stress levels on the job.

On-the-job stressors range from unclear job expectations and time pressures to noisy work stations. A significant factor is a lack of accommodation for work/life balance, which can add to the stress load.   Whatever the root causes, stressed out workers tend to be fatigued, prone to mistakes and injuries, and are more likely to be absent.

Most significantly, according to the American Institute of Stress, stressed workers incur healthcare costs twice as high than for other employees. The consequences of stress-related illnesses, from depression to heart disease, cost businesses an estimated $250 billion a year in lost productivity.  Work stress imposes enormous and far-reaching costs on workers’ well-being and corporate profitability, but the good news is, at least some of these costs are avoidable.  The risk for job stress can be reduced through smart, strategic action.

Stress fighting strategies need not be elaborate or expensive. Simply planning ways to improve communication and recognize employees can be effective.  The National Institute on Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests companies evaluate the scope of stress in the workplace by looking at absenteeism, illness and turnover rates and performance problems.  From there, employee surveys or committees can help determine more specific stressors.  It’s very important to ask employees what strategies may provide remedies.

One effective and easy tool is a Health Risk Assessment (HRA). The HRA is an online questionnaire provided to employees that will help identify risks for diseases and contributing lifestyle factors, such as stress levels.  According to the Mayo Clinic, the HRA enables workers to learn about their individual risks and can be an effective motivator towards making healthy lifestyle changes to reduce those risks.

The American Psychological Association suggests a range of ways a company’s culture can be changed to reduce stress. A company can ensure that workloads are in line with workers’ resources and capabilities.  A corporation may design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation and opportunities for workers to use their skills. Clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities while giving workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.  A manager should also improve communication to help reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.   It’s a great idea to also provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.

Establishing work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job and offering supportive services can help reduce stress on the job. You may allow workers Flex Time and/or Job Sharing.  Some companies allow employees to work from home.  Researchers from Penn State University surveyed 13,000 employees and found that those working from home had less stress.  The prime reason is that working from home provides employees more control over how they do their work and it also helps workers better manage work/family demands.  A company can also provide longer lunch hours.  Extending the lunch hour may discourage snacking and fast food.  Adequate time for lunch may also encourage time for stress-reduction activities like walking.   Employers would be wise to offer a range of wellness activities like stress management workshops, exercise breaks, and onsite support groups.   An outside-the-box idea for reducing workplace stress is to bring a pet to work.  Pets have been shown to reduce stress in people.

No matter what stress management techniques are installed, the key to success is to have a continuing commitment to improving the health and well-being of all employees. Addressing the management of stress can be a vital wellness strategy that makes for a healthier, happier workforce and a stronger, more productive company.

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