Speaking to a group of employee benefit brokers from around Atlanta, Ron Bachman shared revealing statistics about the role of stress in the workplace including how 21.5% of all healthcare costs are stress-related. His emphasis on how stress dramatically clogs productivity was driven home later that same day as we learned Don Perry, Vice President of Public Relations for Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, had died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Was Perry’s death a vivid illustration of what Bachman was addressing?
When Perry died he and Chick-fil-A had been in a public relations quandary in the wake of Dan Cathy voicing his support of the Biblical view of marriage. Vocal gay-rights advocates, along with a few politicians and businesses, railed the fast-food giant while many Christians and conservatives praised Cathy and the company for their traditional family values. While the Los Angeles Times reported Perry had issued a statement writing “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,” he was, no doubt, engaged in determining how the company would respond to a very public debate.
I certainly cannot be definitive on the cause of Perry’s death. Was it a heart attack? If so, was it brought on or hastened by stress? I don’t know. It does appear, however, that one could surmise that stress played a role as the opportunity was certainly present. Yet, whether or not Perry’s death was linked to the stress of dealing with the public relations issues facing him and Chick-fil-A, one thing is for sure: Stress contributes to poor health.
As Ron Bachman addressed the brokers gathered in the training room of BIS Benefits he was drawing on his extensive experience in healthcare strategy for consumers, providers and employers. Ron is a retired partner from PricewaterhouseCoopers where he consulted to a broad range of clients including employers, HMOs, hospitals, physicians and insurance carriers, as well as State and Federal Agencies. In recent years, he has worked on special projects with the Center for Health Transformation and Speaker Gingrich on health policy issues and market transformation ideas.
The Impact of Stress on the Workplace
To grasp the essence of the impact of stress on corporate America, he shared additional statistical insights. Stress in the workplace is a determining factor in why four out of every ten employees leave their employer. Additionally, 33% of all disability and worker’s compensation costs can be attributed to stress. Furthermore, HR professionals are familiar with the term presenteeism which describes workers who show up but are not engaged. Bachman emphasized how 50% of all presenteeism is connected to stress. Fifty is also the percentage for quantifying how often unplanned sick days are the result of stress.
Stress leads to turbulence in the workplace and robs the profitability of the company directly through increased insurance premiums, disability and worker’s compensation claims costs, and the costs of hiring employees exiting the organization for stress-related causes. Furthermore, profitability is lost through unplanned sick days and presenteeism. Add these factors to how stress contributes to low morale, and it is obvious stress can weigh an organization down as it strives to grow, expand and increase profitability.
What can employers do to help employees deal with stress?
Employers must develop wellness initiatives that include assistance for their employees in knowing how to navigate stress. While stress can be the result of poor decisions, stress will also come as a normal part of life, regardless of our actions.
Employers need to be fanatical about creating work environments that reduce opportunities for stress. A company that has an organizational culture of employee appreciation has an increased probability of mitigating stress. Employees who believe they are being fairly compensated and who receive emotional support from coworkers and management will have a better chance of dodging the potentially harmful effects of stress. Employees who are equipped with training and the right tools will have fewer stress factors.
In a recent conversation with Cathy Missildine of Intellectual Capital Consulting, she shared a story that illustrates how employers can make simple changes to relieve stress. Cathy was working with one of her manufacturing clients on an employee engagement project. The company had been experiencing low morale and was experiencing higher than usual turnover. After conducting research via employee surveys and focus groups, she found the data revealed one plant’s employees had an issue with sharing a tool on the production line. This sharing of this special tool was holding up production. The solution? –Buy another $6 tool! Was this the only solution to their issues? Not at all; But it was the beginning of a process between management and employees that included listening and responding, resulting in less day-to-day stress.
Not All Stress is Work Related
Not all stress, however, is work related. Employees often live in a volatile and chaotic environment outside of work. Specifically, the employee may be experiencing relationship crisis with a spouse or children. The employee may be dealing with ill family members or destabilizing financial issues.
Employers should be obsessed with improving the mental health of their workforce. Instead, of simply “having” an Employee Assistance Program, (EAP), they should promote it. Knowing how good physical health supports mental health, the employer must engage employees in effective wellness programs—not forgetting to include family members. They can offer Lunch & Learns with mental health professionals to train employees on how to successfully deal with stress. They can evaluate compensation and benefits packages and ask “Are we adequately and fairly compensating our employees?” They can invite financial counselors into the workplace to offer training on sound personal financial management.
Employers have a vested interest in the mental health of their employees. Whether the stress is work-related or produced by personal issues outside of the office, stress will affect how employees perform on the job. Employers taking a proactive approach in helping employees deal with stress will be the winners.