NEW YORK, November 13, 2013 — Stress is the number one workforce risk issue, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity, according to the 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, conducted by global professional services company Towers Watson, and the National Business Group on Health. However, only 15% of employers identify improving the emotional/mental health (i.e., lessening the stress and anxiety) of employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs.
While stress can energize workers to meet challenging goals, it can also overwhelm them and interrupt business performance. Despite the negative consequences, many employers do not fully understand employee views of its causes.
“Employees seem to be saying, ‘support me, pay me, and direct me,’ but employers are focused on other stress factors,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. “Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community — all contributing factors to workplace performance. Employers that fail to understand employees’ views on stress risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees.”
Causes of Stress: Employer and Employee Disconnect
Employers rank the top three causes of workplace stress as lack of work/life balance (86%), inadequate staffing (70%) and technologies that expand employee availability during nonworking hours (63%). Employees rank inadequate staffing as the number one source of stress, followed by low pay or low pay increases, and unclear or conflicting job expectations, according to Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitude Survey of 5,070 U.S. workers. Inadequate staffing includes lack of support or uneven workloads and performance in groups.
This is where the disconnect starts to take shape. Only inadequate staffing is ranked in the top three causes of stress from both employer and employee points of view. Based on 10 drivers of workforce stress, employees ranked lack of work/life balance fifth, while employers ranked it first. Furthermore, employees ranked low pay or low pay increases as their second-biggest source of stress, while employers ranked it ninth.
Solutions: Establishing a Workplace Culture That Proactively Manages Stress
Employers report that they promote the employee assistance program (EAP) (85%), provide access to financial planning information/services (61%) and offer flexible working options (51%) to help employees manage stress. While employers feel that the EAP is a primary way to address stress issues, only 5% of employees say they use this resource. Also, only about four in 10 employers (39%) offer overt stress management interventions to employees (e.g., stress management workshops, yoga or tai chi). Employees turn to leisure/entertainment activities (47%), social support (42%) and physical activities (39%) to help them cope.
There is a strong recognition that the workplace experience can both contribute to and reduce employee stress. By pursuing a holistic approach that covers both health and well-being programs and the employee value proposition (EVP), organizations can foster a healthy and productive work environment.
“Employers need to understand their employees’ stress drivers, assess their health and productivity programs in light of the findings and leverage what employees are already doing to cope with stress,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. “Employers should improve and promote EAPs, encourage employees to take vacations, design company-sponsored physical activities and offer formal programs to effectively manage stress.”
In addition, organizations need to take a closer look at their EVP, including employee compensation, lack of adequate staffing levels, unclear or conflicting job expectations, and organizational culture. Improved manager training, clear direction on the job and a review of compensation practices could help alleviate the stressors.
About the Survey
The 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey was completed between May and July 2013 in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia by a total of 892 employers.
In the U.S., Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health jointly sponsored the survey. Of the 199 participants in the U.S., 59% are public; 22% are private, and 19% are nonprofit or government agencies.
About the National Business Group on Health
The National Business Group on Health is the nation’s only nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to representing large employers’ perspective on national health policy issues and providing practical solutions to its members’ most important health care problems. The Business Group helps drive today’s health agenda while promoting ideas for controlling health care costs, improving patient safety and quality of care, and sharing best practices in health benefit management with senior benefit and HR professionals and medical directors from leading corporations. Business Group members, which include 66 Fortune 100 companies, provide health coverage for more than 50 million U.S. workers, retirees and their families. For more information, visit businessgrouphealth.org.
About Towers Watson
Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. The company offers solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Towers Watson has 14,000 associates around the world and is located on the web at towerswatson.com.