- Discuss wellness programs as an organizational approach to stress management
In addition to careful job design and managing stifling company cultures, organizations are taking steps to help employees battle stress by offering programs, benefits and office “perks” that allow workers to make choices about managing stress as it best suits their needs.
We learned earlier that healthcare is an expensive endeavor for employers these days, and smaller, privately held companies are looking for clever benefit package designs that reduce an organization’s costs without costing the employee too much more. Stress and stress-related illness has a significant impact on healthcare costs, given annual costs for those stress-related health issues could be anywhere from $125 to $190 billion.
It’s not unusual for a company to offer their employees smoking cessation programs or asthma management programs to help keep healthcare costs in check. Now employers are looking to implement other wellness programs, knowing that stress-related health issues are driving the cost of medical benefits. In fact, health care providers are starting to support these client endeavors, too, recognizing the need to cut spending however they can.
Wellness programs are organizational efforts to help employees improve their health and mental well-being by offering company-sponsored exercise, weight-loss competitions, health screenings and more. Some companies are looking at a more holistic view of stress release by concentrating not just on employee physical health, but also offering financial management classes and opportunities to give back to the community.
Nationwide, companies are seeing the benefits of offering their employees wellness programs. As you can see from the graph below, 91% of all large companies (with more than 10,000 employees) offer some type of wellness program. They’re a cost effective solution to a very expensive problem. Furthermore, as shown in the second graph below, a majority of employees are open to participating in them. Wellness programs are a win-win for companies and their employees.
Now, some employers offer these types of programs and then get in the way of their effectiveness. In Joel Goh’s study, he pointed out that, while US employers recognize that stress leads to costly health issues and put programs in place to combat them, those same employers sometimes undermine those programs with stress-inducing employment practices. These programs don’t work if the employee is too stressed and overloaded with work to participate!
Some younger companies are going the extra mile to incorporate wellness into their culture and work environment. Google and Apple are headliners among organizations that offer their employees multiple choices in stress-burning activities throughout the day—like ping-pong tables, foosball, bowling alleys—and other perks that allow their employees to eliminate stress from their lives, such as free meals and free rides to work. Masseuses, available for booking during work hours, and family-room like areas where employees can relax and put up their feet go a long way toward employee stress relief and comfort. These are great examples of companies taking a cue from the ways individuals pursue stress release and making some of those methods available in the workplace.
Companies can incorporate stress release into their benefits packages in other ways as well. Companies offering a nice paid-time-off package that features use-it-or-lose-it vacation time encourages their employees to step away from the office and enjoy time with their families. Discounted gym memberships can encourage employees to stay physically fit, and companies are starting to offer easy, direct-deposit college savings plans so that employees can more easily provide for the education of their offspring. Some companies have gone as far as providing on-site day care for employees, making child care convenient and cost-effective. Other companies have a dogs-allowed policy at the office, where people can bring in their pets and combat stressful situations with a furry hug.
Finally, mental health is an ever-present issue in today’s society, and employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) for those employees who are struggling with issues at work or in their personal lives. Employee assistance programs offer short-term, confidential counseling to employees, complete with referrals, free assessments and follow up services. Where wellness programs and company benefits can’t address mental health and wellbeing, employee assistance programs step in and make it easier for struggling workers to find help.
These wellness programs and benefits offerings are companies’ responses to the individual needs of their employees and their ongoing quest for work/life balance. Not only do they foster excellent perception that they care about their employees, but they also address the very costly issue of stress in the workplace.