The Loop

Benefits To Help Workers Overcome Stress

Filed under: Benefits

Today’s workers may have the flexibility to arrive late, leave early, or even work from home. But they still tend to receive work-related texts and check their emails 24/7. In other words, even though many employers have made great strides in helping employees improve their work/life balance, in some cases it’s only served to create more stress.

Part of the reason is because America’s work culture values reliable, on-call dedication. The busier and more stressed out the worker, the more he is perceived as important and invaluable – corporate currencies that convert into power. However, today’s collective workforce is feeling more stressed out than ever on the job, whether onsite or working from home. And while the pandemic-induced remote work model would seem to offer more work/life balance, the stress of juggling both job and family from inside one household is worse for many employees. Ultimately, stress takes its toll through lost sleep, compromised health, strained relationships, lower productivity, and a diminished sense of well-being.

 According to an annual MetLife survey, the four biggest stressors that impact today’s workers are:   Personal commitments

  1. Personal Commitments
  2. Personal and family health
  3. Work responsibilities
  4. Personal finances

While it can be useful for employers to provide stress management resources, the key to eliminating stressors clearly lies in other workplace policies and benefits. These include work flexibility, access to healthcare and insurance coverage, workload management, satisfactory compensation and other financial assistance. 

Personal Commitments

Obviously, paid time off (PTO) is a valued benefit. However, the most engaged workers – often the ones with the poorest work/life balance – tend to be the least likely to use all of their PTO. They may even feel that they will be subtlety penalized for using it. Whether or not this is true isn’t the point; they feel it’s true. So it’s not enough to provide ample PTO. Employers must ensure a worker feels welcome to take days off, and his work will not suffer because of it. This means providing sufficient cross-training among teams so that colleagues trust each other to handle the workload when they take PTO. This includes not contacting a worker on his day off with a work phone call, text or email.

Personal and Family Health

Even taking time off due to a legitimate illness can create anxiety among workers. There’s the stress of missing work because you feel sick; the stress of going to work sick and worrying about infecting others; the stress of not getting the work done; and the stress of being distracted and potentially making a mistake…all because you woke up with a sore throat.

The health situation is further exacerbated by COVID-19 and its potential for outbreaks at work. Employers can help alleviate stress by making their policies clear ahead of time regarding how instances of positive worker cases and contact tracing will be handled; wage payments during periods of quarantine or if the business temporarily closes; whether or not the employer will pay for testing; and details about health insurance coverage should a worker or family member contract the virus.

Work Responsibilities

There are several reasons why employees might get stressed out by the job itself. They may feel overwhelmed by their workload, or feel they don’t have the skills or knowledge to get it done. Employers can help relieve this stress through ongoing skills training. For example, perhaps there are techniques, shortcuts, or specific knowledge that enable workers to work more efficiently and even reduce their workload.  

If employees are stressed out because they don’t get along with colleagues or their manager, HR can hold training sessions to help workers and supervisors learn effective interpersonal skills to reduce the potential for conflicts. In recent years, the political environment has created greater division among different races and ethnic groups, which can increase stress levels on the job. It’s important for employers to proactively identify trouble areas and take action to set boundaries and accountability for inappropriate comments or behaviors. Employee Assistance Programs may be able to offer support for workers who experience the trauma of racism, and provide education and consultation resources to help workplace leaders recognize and deal with these situations.

The coronavirus has added another source of anxiety for employees, whether they work from home or at a job site. Pandemic-related stressors include worrying about furloughs, job loss, getting sick, bringing the virus home to loved ones, and/or feelings of isolation while working offsite. While none of these concerns is specific to job duties, they are work related and stress inducing. These are issues employers should be aware of and mitigate through communication and safety protocols.

Personal Finances

Some people aren’t able to make ends meet because they don’t earn enough income to support the household. Other people are unable to make ends meet no matter how much money they earn, because they have poor money management habits and lack spending discipline. For employers trying to find ways to mitigate stress related to personal finances, it’s important to try to distinguish between the two.

As for compensation, there are additional considerations to  not getting paid enough to cover basic expenses. Some workers feel like they don’t paid enough for the job they do, which may involve factors other than the actual work. For example, a store greeter may appear to have pretty easy duties. However, if that job now entails confronting customers who refuse to wear a mask, and who even become belligerent or violent during the encounter, that worker probably thinks he doesn’t get paid enough to deal with that type of responsibility (not to mention the stress).

Another anxiety-inducing situation is when employees don’t feel they are paid on par with company co-workers, or within their industry. Employers should work toward parity. Regardless of a worker’s salary history, her pay should be comparable to others in similar positions within the company. Equal pay and transparency are rising trends. Don’t wait until legislation and/or social media reveals wide pay disparities – particularly among women, people of color and other minorities. This could lead to irreparable damage to an employer’s reputation, recruitment and retention prospects – not to mention running afoul of discrimination laws.

As you can see, many employer actions that can help reduce worker stress are not part of a formal benefits package. They are really more about company culture. To create a less stressful work environment, employers should view their workers’ lives holistically. In other words, try to address the issues that cause stress rather than simply provide resources to help manage stress. Even if there are problems outside of work that an employer cannot alleviate, providing a safe and comfortable work environment for them to focus on and be productive at, can be a huge step toward managing stress in their personal life.

Benefits directly related to stress management are frequently appreciated but often under-utilized. In recent years, employers have begun offering non-traditional benefits that can help mitigate stress, such as mental health resources, phased retirement, student loan assistance and other financial wellness programs. However, simply providing these benefits usually doesn’t do the trick. Employers must promote them, streamline processes to use them, educate workers on their benefits, and actively encourage their use. Otherwise, without widespread adoption, they are poor investments. The key to successfully managing workforce stress is the utilization of these benefits.

Such benefits may include mindful meditation classes or counseling resources available through an EAP. Another good stress-mitigator is regular exercise. An employer may encourage or at least let workers know that they are free to use their lunch break to go for a walk, visit a local gym, take a yoga class, or any other form of exercise that can be achieved in a short period of time. Now that more employees are working from home, this option is all the more viable because they don’t necessarily have to wash-up afterwards in order to get back to work.

There are financial advantages to investing in a stress-free, worker-friendly culture. MetLife reports that ten percent of anxiety-related short-term disability claims turn into long-term disability claims. It isn’t enough for employers to just be aware of the need for work/life balance; they must embrace this philosophy and take active measures to nurture it. 

Note that a happy workforce isn’t just more productive, it’s also more loyal. When worker needs are met – generally defined by commensurate compensation, utilized benefits, a fair workload, trust in management, and a congenial work environment – they are less likely to experience employment related stress. This means that they seldom find reasons to look for a job elsewhere.

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