Lower Worker Stress, Raise Retention?

New rounds of studies are advising that stress and mental health can affect productivity in the workplace and sharply impact retention.

According to a report by Meritain Health and the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, companies should make the connection between untreated mental health conditions and lost productivity, perhaps offering more comprehensive mental health benefits and promoting the benefits to their employees.

And in a separate report, this time by Watson Wyatt, workers rank stress as the top reason they would leave their company, followed by base pay, new opportunities, and work/life balance.

However, it is not even among the top five reasons that employers cited. Instead, employers cited insufficient pay, lack of career development, and promotion opportunities.

Watson Wyatt’s 2007/2008 Global Strategic Rewards study found that when employees are satisfied with stress levels and work/life balance, 86% are more inclined to stay with their company (versus 64% when dissatisfied) and 88% are more likely to recommend it as a place to work (versus 55% when dissatisfied).

Stress Affects Performance

In the Meritain/mental health study, 94% of workers report that their stress levels affect job performance but think their employers do not place enough emphasis on mental health.

In the national study of 411 full-time employees with medical benefits, 52% say their employer does not address stress, work/life balance, or mental/behavioral health with employees. Moreover, 40% aren’t aware of what mental/behavioral health benefits are offered by their employer. And 35.7% say they would be more likely to use their mental/behavioral health benefits if their employer did a better job of promoting them.

Additional survey findings show:

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  • 55.8% say stress affects their general attitude.
  • 39.4% say stress affects relationships with co-workers.
  • 36.2% say stress affects their productivity.
  • 35.5% say stress affects the quality of their work.
  • 33.2% say stress affects their relationship with their supervisor.

“As employers continue to become more knowledgeable about wellness, it’s crucial that they consider not only the prevalence and cost of mental illness, but also about the availability of effective treatments,” says Clare Miller, director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a joint program between the American Psychiatric Association and numerous employers.

How Do Americans View Wellness Programs?

In general, employed Americans feel positively about employers offering programs that encourage workers to adopt healthier lifestyles.

According to the recently released Health Confidence Survey by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute, eight in 10 are strongly or somewhat positive about these types of programs (41% each). Just two in 10 feel somewhat (12%) or strongly negative (4%) about these programs.

But employers’ motivations seem to matter to workers, too. Although many workers agree that wellness programs can help people develop healthier lifestyles, more than eight in 10 each strongly or somewhat agree that wellness programs can help people (89%) or themselves (83%) develop healthier lifestyles.

Overall, 76% agree employers that offer wellness programs are showing concern for their workers. However, within that group, 65% think employers that offer wellness programs are only concerned about their bottom line and 45% think employers are intruding on worker privacy.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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