Are Your Employees Too Stressed to Stay Healthy? You Can Help
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Are Your Employees Too Stressed to
Stay Healthy? You Can Help
Large employers are often in a better position financially to take advantage
of elaborate wellness and employee assistance programs. Perhaps your own
budget doesn't allow for such things. But that doesn't mean you are helpless.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 75 percent of your healthcare
costs and loss of employee productivity is due to "lifestyle choices," which
may motivate you to pursue a remedy.
When wellness programs first became popular around twenty years ago, their
architects operated under what turned out to be a very naïve assumption:
Causing employees to live healthier lives (e.g. quitting smoking, eating more
nutritious food and getting plenty of exercise) was primarily a matter of
education. Tell people what they need to do and the reasons why, and
behavior will change.
» That approach generally failed to motivate change, and many employers felt
they had been burned by wellness program vendors.
» Wellness efforts shifted gears to add financial incentives for participation in
programs which involved stronger individual goal-setting and progress
monitoring. Faith in the power of financial incentives is reflected in
theAffordable Care Act which, in 2014, raises the cap on wellness program
participation incentives to 30 percent of the cost of health coverage to lure
employees into wellness programs. The previous level was 20 percent.
New Day Dawning?
A new era of wellness promotion is dawning, in which emphasis is placed on
understanding employee health, engagement and productivity and "lifestyle"
choices in light of all that's going on in their lives.
For many employees (especially women), this means even though they've left
work for the day, it is still not time to relax. No surprise there. Women with
young children at home, even with the most supportive spouses, typically
bear the brunt of the time, emotional and physical demands of parenting.
What is now becoming more of a factor, however, is the added squeeze of
the "sandwich generation" phenomenon. In other words, the employees'
parents may require as much attention as their children. The Society for
Human Resource Management (SHRM), in its 2013 Employee Benefits Survey,
reported 50 million Americans serve as unpaid family caregivers to an adult.
Under such circumstances, preparing wholesome meals, let alone actively
participating in a wellness program are simply not options.
Limited Eldercare Support
So far, employers surveyed by SHRM have not gotten on board with formal
policies and benefits intended to help these sandwiched employees out, as it
relates to aging parents. Since 2009 the proportion of SHRM's survey base
offering even an elder care referral service has remained around the 10
percent mark. Geriatric counseling and elder care assisted living assessment
benefits are almost a non-factor in the benefits menu, offered by two and
one percent, respectively. Yet the fact that SHRM keeps asking employers
about this suggests an expectation that someday this will change.
Omnipresent financial pressures and
relationship problems can also be a
drain on many employees, with
adverse health and productivity
What's An Employer to Do?
You can't solve all of your employees' problems, of course. Nor can you
throw money at the problem by enlisting an army of vendors to provide
costly support services. At the same time, recognizing the price you may be
paying for extra healthcare and lost productivity from such employees may
encourage you to take a second look at:
1. Whether your employment policies maximize your employees' abilities to
deal with minor and major crises. This includes work scheduling flexibility
and personal leave opportunities.
2. Whether you are currently paying for wellness and healthcare benefits
which focus too narrowly on one dimension of your employees' health, at
a time when "context-based medicine" is on the rise.
If you do review those issues and then make some changes, keep the
following in mind:
• Policies generally should be applicable to all employees.
• Don't pry too deeply into your employees' personal lives without their
clear willingness to discuss any problems they may be experiencing.
• If employees do open up, be prepared to give a more helpful response
than "that's too bad." Gingerly stepping into employees' personal lives
will cause many to assume that in exchange for sharing their woes, you
will do something to alleviate them.
• When instituting wellness programs, be sure you are on sound legal
footing with respect to possible exposure to discrimination claims under
the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The point, of course, is not to be nosy or intrusive. But employers should recognize
that work hours are only part of what employees deal with. The more stressed they
are at home the less productive they will be on the job, and sometimes that results in
serious mistakes or accidents. It's to everyone's benefit to offer a little understanding
and possibly some real assistance. Just don't go too far. After all, after work hours are
called "private life" for a reason.