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About workplace stress

About workplace stress

By Susan Seitel

Each year it seems that our workers are more stressed. Pressure comes from all sides. New technology, increased competition (global as well as local) and a pressing need to do more with less are just a few of the sources. Having to learn new skills in an increasingly competitive and uncertain job market, add to the feelings of strain. And competing needs and priorities on the home front are stretching our workers’ time, energies and focus.

Although stress might seem like a personal issue, we know from a host of studies that workers’ stress costs employers in a variety of ways. There’s also a growing body of evidence showing how a comprehensive stress management program can alleviate much of the burden. There are many factors contributing to stress at work that could be improved, alleviated or eliminated. Helping managers and employees become more resilient is a long-term investment in making our workplace healthier.

Three recent surveys have gauged both the causes and impact of stress in the United States.

First, a 2010 poll by LifeCare found 81% of workers feeling overwhelmed or burned out, and 40% having trouble functioning at work. Nearly three-fourths had not sought professional assistance despite a host of symptoms that show stress has a negative impact on their health.

• 62% had trouble sleeping
• 61% had memory problems
• 59% reported anger or irritability
• 56% couldn’t seem to focus or concentrate
• 54% were troubled by nervousness or anxiety
• 21% said stress had caused loss of weight or a change in eating habits.

Another recent survey, the American Psychological Association’s “2009 Stress in America Report,” found 75% of Americans experiencing moderate to high levels of stress. Money, work and the economy were the top three sources of stress, with more than 70% ranking money as their top source.

Many of our workers are sandwich caregivers. Being a member of the working sandwich generation – those who are holding down a full-time job while raising children and simultaneously serving as a caregiver for older relatives – comes with a steep price tag.

The October 2010 Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study by MetLife helps to quantify some of the pressures and costs, and increasingly points to the workplace as a potential source for assistance.

About one in five full-time employees is a caregiver of an older relative and nearly three-quarters of these employees also have children under the age of 18.

• 42% of employees with minor children, but without elder caregiving responsibilities, say they live from paycheck to paycheck; 64% of members of the working sandwich generation say the same.
• 37% of working men and women with minor children are very concerned about being able to afford to buy a home, but that percentage doubles to 74% for those who are also caregivers
• 55% of workers with minor children are very concerned about affording college, but that percentage climbs to 72% for those who are also caregivers

While 45% of working parents are both concerned and stressed about not having enough time to spend with their families, that percentage jumps to 72% for those who are simultaneously balancing parental and caregiving responsibilities

The MetLife study found 64% of caregivers with children saying they worry less about unexpected health and financial issues because of their workplace benefits.

Even before the recession, a large number of employees were experiencing stress from financial issues, and many companies were offering a variety of options to help ease that stress.

For instance, in 2007, the Pepsi Bottling Group was awarded the AWLP Innovative Excellence Award for their HealthyMoney program. The free program helps PBG’s 35,000 employees become empowered with the knowledge, tools and confidence to build life-long financial stability. On-site workshops cover the financial implications of life events like getting married, having children, divorcing or retiring; goal-setting; cash and debt management; and more. Employees receive a HealthyMoney Workbook that includes self-assessments, helpful tips and targeted activities to help them build personalized action plans.

Beginning in 2008, the number of employees needing financial help began to grow exponentially. A mid¬sized community bank in Chicago realized that its employees, much like the community, were being heavily impacted by the recession. They directed a new group of programs toward employees experiencing an unanticipated acute need or personal financial hardship (often due to unexpected changes in family circumstances, like significant medical expenses or spouse’s job loss.) The programs included food assistance – gift cards for Summer, Thanksgiving & Christmas; financial assistance – one paycheck amount, up to $1000, in a 1-year period; a holiday toy drive – boy /girl age appropriate gifts for children of families in need; and a school supply drive – age appropriate supplies at the start of the school year.

Employees were encouraged to call their EAP as part of the agreement. Counselors were then able to assess any additional issues contributing to, or resulting from, financial stress and offer help and resources for those issues. More than 200 examples of employees taking advantage of the programs and receiving assistance were recorded.

Employees of Aerojet, an aerospace and defense company, can get financial help from their company to install solar panels on their homes. Financial planning seminars are free, along with Webinars about college planning. Mass-transit fares are subsidized 30%, and an online EmployeeMall offers discounted items from more than 100 retailers.

McDonald’s has supersized the 401(k). Employees who put 5% of their salary in the company 401(k) get a company match of as much as 11%, and to make sure employees take advantage of the program, enrollment is automatic. Employees who put in just 1% of their salary get $3 for every $1 they invest.

Cyclists can now get tax-free reimbursement at Wal-Mart and Discovery Communications reimburses up to $350 for a bike. Accor Services recently introduced the Commuter Check for Bicycling, a voucher system for businesses that don’t want to build their own reimbursement system.

More than 20 leading Minnesota employers have joined a group of companies pledging to help workers become “Financially Fit.” They’ve pledged to help their employees close critical gaps in both retirement savings and use of direct deposit for pay.

Excessive work-related stress has been shown to be responsible for enough health problems – both mental and physical – to significantly reduce profit. Join the forward-thinking companies that are taking steps to reduce it.

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