Friday, 16 July 2010
The UK appears to have entered an age of stress verging on a pandemic, and the workplace is one of the places where this stress manifests itself most notably. So what systems can employers introduce to remove the likelihood of stress?
79% of employers in a stress management survey taken in 2010 by the IRS were found to have introduced measures to deal with stress at work. These included:
Advice on how to eat healthily.
Free or subsidised health screening.
Discussions with managers about stress.
Offers of flexible working hours or options.
Cycle-to-work schemes or gym membership.
Benefits like this, revolving around health, wellbeing and fitness, are considered to have a great impact in reducing general stress in employees. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) especially - meant to support employees with work and personal concerns including relationships, financial, alcohol- or health-related problems - seem to be a key to fighting stress. Employees are able to access their EAP confidentially either face-to-face or through a 24 hour telephone helpline.
Although hard data on the capability of these systems is difficult to obtain, PPC Worldwide, a global EAP specialist, found that 74.7% of employees in over 800 cases said their stress levels had improved after taking counseling provided by their EAP.
Employee Assistance Programmes, however, are an expense. Costs can range from £30 a head to £7, often affected by the number of employees. But automatically choosing the cheapest EAP providers has been ill-advised. The chairman of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association, Eugene Farrell, announced, “you really do get what you pay for”. EAPs are also thought to considerably reduce the number of employee absences.
Employers who do provide EAPs illustrate two things: that they appreciate the welfare of their employees, and that they are attending to the ‘duty of care’ they have for the workforce, something that may be of use to them in any case where an employee may claim that employer negligence aided the development of a stress-related illness.
Other measures that could be taken are the provision of:
1. General Physical Health Benefits
Though private medical or health insurance for employees can be very expensive, comprehensive cover definitely relieves stress in employees affected by an illness. Often it also results in faster treatment than the NHS can provide, which should mean less time off work.
Cash plans, alternatively, are cheaper, for example Simplyhealth offers Simply Cash Plan, starting from £1 a week per employee for telephone access to advice on health and wellbeing issues as well as advice on care for children and the elderly. Extras, such as face-to-face counseling can then be added on top.
2. Dental Health
Many cash plans will cover dental treatment, but dental benefits are an obvious answer to reducing stress, particularly when considering that the number of people suffering from bruxism - ‘grinding of the teeth’, often caused by stress - is increasing.
3. Alcoholism Aid
Since alcoholism can be a sensitive subject, and a symptom or cause of stress, a company named Tactus International are launching a website: lookatyourdrinking.com, which provides a 16-week treatment programme for alcoholics for roughly £2000 per capita. The company aims to be available on corporate intranet sites for employees to access them anonymously for help. They will then offer management information back to the corporate, who subsequently only pay for those employees involved in treatment.
A further step to identify and deal with stress, for those who can afford it, is the provision of an occupational health service for employees.