2 Comments | May 24, 2010

Workplace Stress Management that Works

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Not to step on anybody’s toes, but seriously – this is stress management?!?

Get up 15 minutes early. Clasp your arms behind your back and stretch your shoulders. learn to say no. Go for a brisk walk. Practice laughing out loud. (ha ha) Take a deep breath and let it all out.Count to ten - or 1000 - before exploding.Stand up and stretch.

I won’t name the source, but this tripe is sold and billed as “stress management” in someone’s world. Employees are overworked, underpaid, have had their benefits slashed, and feel relationship and financial pressures at home, and they’re supposed to “stand up and stretch” to relieve stress? Thanks, boss. Instead of patronizing your workforce, how about doing something about stress?

No wonder there’s an employee turnover rate crisis developing. If this is the kind of crap that’s passing for stress relief programs at your company, you’re in for a nasty surprise as the economic recovery unfolds.

Why is an effective stress management program necessary and essential to controlling employee healthcare expenses and employee turnover rates? Wolff states it pretty well:

The stress accruing from a situation is based in large part on the way the affected subject perceives it: perception depends upon a multiplicity of factors including the genetic equipment, basic individual needs and longings, earlier conditioning influences, and a host of life experiences and cultural pressures.

In other words, your employees’ perception of their life and work situation is a function of their previous experiences in life in general, but more importantly, their experiences with you as their employer in particular. The way your employees view their circumstances determines the impact of stressful situations on their health and wellness – and hence, on the degree of healthcare, absentee, presentee, and employee turnover costs your business bears.

Perceived stress is not an abstract thing. It produces a systemic physiological response encompassing thinking patterns, hormones, muscles, arteries, joints, and internal organs. Wolff’s research suggests stress manifests changes in all of these physiological and mental processes:

  • Appetite and digestion
  • Mental alertness and cognitive function
  • Arterial constriction, reduced renal (kidney) function, and hypertension
  • Skin health
  • Musculoskeletal health
  • Pulmonary function
  • Mental framework and expectation for the quality of the future (ie, positive or negative life outlook)

Those are just the processes affected by an employee’s stress reaction to life stimuli. The outcome of repeated stress reactions is often pathological, and deadly. The six leading causes of death – widely considered preventable with appropriate behavioral choices – have been correlated to stress:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Lower respiratory disease (many smoking-induced)
  • Accidents (mental distraction-induced)
  • Diabetes

Clearly, your employee benefits related to health/wellness must not only account for stress, but be designed around stress mitigation. Unfortunately, few employee wellness programs target stress directly, and instead struggle to target the side effects of stress, which manifest themselves in a litany of physiological indicators (blood pressure, blood cholesterol, destructive life habits like smoking and alcohol abuse, obesity, etc).

Most employee wellness benefits attempt to close the barn door after the horse has left.

So, what works?

Certainly not a collection of trite, manipulative “Dudley Doright” posters. Among the most effective mechanisms for reducing the stress reaction to life stimuli is affording the opportunity to gain physical and mental distance from the daily routine. Taking time away from work, and away from the everyday home environment as well, gives employees the opportunity to gain perspective on life situations, restore primary relationships, improve physical health, establish new, healthier life habits, and reduce the risk of depression (by up to three times!) and burnout. There’s a term for what I’ve just described: wellness travel in general, and Vacation Wellness™ in particular.

Why do you need a program to get your employees to take destination vacations? Because two out of three employees haven’t taken a vacation in over a year, and 43% have no plans to take a vacation this year. American employees leave a full third of their allotted vacation days on the table, which ends up costing American businesses over $532B every year. Why? Three reasons:

  • Employees don’t believe they can afford a vacation
  • Vacations are difficult and time-consuming to plan
  • Employees don’t believe their employers want them to take any time off.

Your employees need you to provide a vacation wellness benefit that allows them to take professionally planned premium destination vacations at up to 70% discounts, because doing so removes all three obstacles to the healthy practice of taking regular destination vacations.

Sounds great in principle, but how does it work? See an example here. And calculate your approximate business savings here. Then get a quote here. Or have your questions answered here.

In the meantime, tear down those patronizing posters!



Karen 10:18 am - 23rd June:

This is great information and speaks to the real truth about stress and it’s negative impact on individuals and the related costs to businesses. How do you recommend employers convince employees that they really want them to take vacations?

Steve 12:40 pm - 23rd June:

Thanks Karen. We would recommend two things: first, buy Vacation Wellness for your employees. Second, make vacation days mandatory – ie, don’t let employees “bank them” for down the road. Stress is cumulative, and it’s important that employers encourage a balanced lifestyle to reduce health risks, lower burnout potential, and improve productivity and engagement.