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Wellsource Blog

Is Workplace Stress Taking a Toll on Your Employee Wellness?

March 22, 2018

Inside the Dunder Mifflin office, stress is at an all-time high. CEO Michael Scott’s unpredictable behavior, dictator-style workplace rules, and general distrust has employees on edge. It’s so bad, one employee even wears a device to measure stress levels, which usually spike when Scott is around. And the office tension reaches a tipping point when one employee has a heart attack.

Is workplace stress taking a toll on your employee wellness?

While Dunder Mifflin is a fictional company featured in the popular TV show, The Office, an estimated 75 percent of employees suffer from workplace stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

Get over it. Take a chill pill. Relax. That was Scott’s initial solution to help his staff to deal with workplace stress. But that approach clearly doesn’t work. In real life, for sure.

Chronic disease and the true cost of stress

Too much stress at work or at home costs U.S. businesses an estimated $300 billion a year, according to the American Institute of Stress, because of things like:

  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism
  • Employee turnover
  • Work-related injuries
  • Higher medical costs

“People see their jobs as stress-creating,” says Harvard University researcher Robert J. Blendon.  But, Blendon notes, “almost half of people who work are at a workplace that has no corporate wellness program.”

Some, like the fictional staff at The Office, have a workplace health program that is ineffective or slightly misguided. And a 2016 report found that very few employee health programs – only 22 percent – offered programs to help employees build stress coping skills.    

“An office is a place to... live life to the fullest.” – Scott

If you’re trying to control healthcare costs or run an employee wellness program, it’s important to recognize that stress may be a contributing factor to chronic and costly health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression.

In the United States, an estimated 86 percent of all healthcare costs ($2.7 trillion annually) are spent on treating people with chronic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, chronic disease is largely preventable.

Developing interventions and using lifestyle medicine to change behaviors could save an estimated $6 trillion in healthcare costs over the next 15 years, and 16 million lives, says Dr. Kenneth Thorpe, chairman for the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease.

The connection between stress and chronic disease is real. An estimated 75 percent of all doctor’s visits can be linked to stress-related problems, according to the American Psychological Association.

Is your population stressed out?

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In the Dunder Mifflin example, Scott skips over trying to find out why his staff is stressed out. Instead, he implements mandatory yoga and meditation sessions. But that really only makes things worse.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to figure out what to do. And it’s simple. Just ask them.

Don’t plan corporate wellness programs the Michael Scott way. Use a wellness assessment to ask your members or employees about stress: For example:

  • Ask about stress related to work, home, money, and life experiences.
  • Ask about coping strategies used to manage stress.
  • Find out if they’re interested in stress management strategies to be healthier and happier.

That’s population health data you can use to develop stress-related interventions to promote health, prevent disease, improve productivity, and control healthcare costs.

Does your wellness assessment include questions about stress management?

Get the guide on How to Choose a Health Risk Assessment to learn more.

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"People see their jobs as stress-creating, but almost half of people who work are at a workplace that has no corporate wellness program."

Robert J. Blendon Harvard University

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