Updates from April, 2014 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Esther Orioli 8:01 am on April 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    European Union tackles workplace stress with new campaign 

    The European Union recently launched a campaign to counter stress in the workplace.

    Workplace stress is an issue that employers around the world are working to improve. According to the latest poll from the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA), over half of workers say that stress is common problem in their place of employment, and four out of 10 employees say that the issue is not handled well within their organizations. 

    To improve the situation of workers in European Union member states, EU-OSHA recently launched a two year campaign called Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress. The inter-governmental agency is calling on public and private employers to recognize that worker health and safety is essential for organizational productivity. 

    "Workplaces cannot afford to ignore work-related stress, which increases absenteeism and lowers productivity," László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said in a press release. "[...] A positive working environment is not only important for enabling employees to work longer, it is also important to ensure that when workers do retire, they are still in good health."

    One goal of the campaign is to show that stress in the workplace can be handled similarly to other occupational health and safety issues. As a part of the program, the EU has provided employers with information about how to manage the risks that cause workplace stress and ideas for how to deal with them. 

    As a stress expert I'm thrilled that the EU recognizes and is taking action to help organizations, and the people in them, manage stress through programs specifically targeted to address it.  Before implementing any solution however I would advise them to start with assessment. This does two critical things. It gives individuals a personal stress and resiliency profile allowing each to pinpoint his or her unique stress strengths and vulnerabilities for self-improvement. It gives organizations a baseline measure of their workforce stress and resiliency levels so they can target interventions based on need, and track progress to measure impact and ROI. When it comes to organizational stress, like so many things, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

  • Esther Orioli 7:55 am on April 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Are wearable devices the key to improving employee wellness? 

    Wearable technology - what isn’t your bracelet telling you?

    Wearable technology is quickly becoming incorporated into many corporate wellness programs. According to a study conducted by research firm Canalys, 8 million activity tracking devices, like heart rate monitors and step counters, are expected to ship by the end of 2014. The group predicts that the number will reach 23 million by 2015 and 45 million by 2017. Many companies are using the devices in their health programs, because they are inexpensive and many administrators see them as a way to reduce healthcare costs. 

    According to a recent CIO Magazine article, however, many experts in the employee benefits field are questioning how beneficial wearable technology is for a company's bottom line. Daniel McCaffrey, a behavioral scientist with the consulting firm Endeavour Partners cited the following reasons why health devices may not be effective:

    • Although they are less expensive than full medical devices, wrist bands and step counters can get pricey, especially when a company is buying hundreds of them. It may take years for these products to get down to a price at which companies see a significant return on investment.
    • Basic fitness programs are typically not beneficial for employees who are already very physically active and workers who express no interest in participating. It's usually a very small percentage of employees who are ready for a major behavior modification. 
    • Some employees will be wary of using these health-related devices due to privacy concerns. 

    So while wearable devices and the information they provide may be useful to some, these studies point out critical limitations for offering them as part of employee health and wellness programs. The main problem being that they focus almost exclusively on the physical with little regard for the mental, emotional and behavioral aspects of stress which is what most companies are trying to impact in the first place.

    The #1 issue for employees in the workplace is stress, something that is not directly measured with these devices. If organizations truly want to help employees with health and wellness, and decrease their healthcare costs, they've got to go beyond  "eat your broccoli and take the stairs" and look for solutions that assess stress and build resiliency through a whole person – body, mind, emotions and behaviors – approach.

  • Esther Orioli 6:53 am on April 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Survey: Pay and commute are top sources of workplace stress 

    Low pay and long commutes are contributing factors to workplace stress, according to the survey.

    Eight in 10 American workers are stressed out due to low pay and long commutes, according to a new survey conducted by Nielsen on behalf of Everest College. The career-focused education company's 2014 Work Stress Survey found little improvement in the well-being of workers since 2013. 

    In addition to long commutes and less-than-desirable salaries, survey respondents said that an unreasonable workload, poor work-life balance and job uncertainty were top contributors to stress in the workplace. 

    According to the survey, income also plays a significant role in the factors that contribute to stress. Among survey respondents with a household income less than $35,000, the top stressors were low pay and no opportunities for advancement. Individuals who earn more than $100,000 are more likely to cite a long commute and an unreasonable workload as their biggest work problems.

    "When it comes to stress at the workplace, low pay and a long commute is a double whammy for American workers […]," Wendy Cullen, vice president of employer development for Everest College, said in a press release. Cullen added that because work occupies such a large portion of the lives of many individuals, keeping workplace stress under control is necessary for the success of any business.

    With more and more studies and surveys reporting what people in the workplace already know – stress is a problem! – what's an organization to do? Implement a stress solution that measures stress and builds resiliency.

    Why haven't they done this already? Companies often see stress and resiliency as nebulous, hard-to-gauge issues, so they focus instead on trying to manage its symptoms, like obesity, anxiety, depression, inactivity, smoking and substance abuse.

    How do we know this doesn't work? Because the traditional health and wellness programs have been in place for 40 years and the survey results and healthcare costs are not getting any better. Plus these types of "eat your broccoli, take the stairs" kind of programs ignore a large part of the employee population who are already physically fit or have no interest in these types of programs.

    It's time to respond to stress with programs that speak directly to the people, ones that help them measure their unique stress and resiliency strengths and vulnerabilities and make improvements that are most important and of interest to them. Without that, when it comes to stress, companies will just be spinning their wheels.

  • Esther Orioli 9:33 am on April 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Study: Poor workplace health, stress detrimental to U.K. economy 

    According to UK study, improving workplace health and dealing with stress is critical to the economy.

    Most employers know that workers who are in poor health or are under stress can bring down the bottom line of a company. They're more likely to call in sick, and when they are in the office, they are less productive. According to a new study, business owners and executives are not the only people who should be concerned about the emotional health of workers, as policymakers have a stake in this issue as well. 

    Researchers from the University of Salford, a British institution, and public health consultancy firm Cavill Associates, found that workplace health issues cost the British economy over £100 billion ($166 billion) annually. One reason for the high cost, say the investigators, is that many companies waste time and money on poorly executed workplace health policies. 

    What's wrong with the health initiatives that are already in place at many companies? According to the study, most don't address the issues that employees are actually dealing with. They are not relevant and are not well-integrated into a company's overall improvement strategy, and often treated as add-ons. 

    In response to the study, a group of public health officials held an open meeting to discuss what businesses could do to boost the morale of workers and improve the economy. Dame Carol Black, a University of Cambridge professor and special advisor to the U.K.'s Department of Health, said that business owners need to be more sensitive about the needs of their employees. 

    "What any SME or large company needs to do is consult its workers, because you can't progress health related issues until you know what the workforce issues are," Black said during the meeting, as reported by Industry Today. "Managers must be able to communicate well and they have to listen, and empower employees by giving them some level of autonomy […] if you don't have much resource, start with leadership and managerial behavior."

    Other leaders at the meeting proposed that key factors that contribute to workplace stress—work-life balance, fairness and job security—need to be addressed as well. 

    The report also reiterated the benefits of using effective workplace health schemes. They cited previous studies that suggest wellness programs are linked to lower rates of absenteeism and increased levels of job satisfaction. 

    When organizations need to reduce healthcare costs it is crucial for them to assess the impact of stress on their people. The costs associated with obesity, inactivity, smoking, and other expensive problems like depression and anxiety, are often outcomes of poor stress management, rather than root cause. And so are performance issues like lack of engagement, poor decision making and absenteeism to name a few.

    As this study shows, when it comes to decreasing costs providing a generic health and wellness program does not get the job done. Only through assessment and behavior change solutions specifically targeted to manage stress and build resiliency will businesses get the much needed results they are looking for.The answer lies in finding programs that are relevant to the people. The first step is asking them. The next step is listening. And the answer probably has something to do with stress.

  • Esther Orioli 6:12 am on April 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Workplace Stress: When the house is on fire, Awareness is Not Nearly Enough 

    April is Stress Awareness Month.

    April is Stress Awareness Month. Good, I think. As a stress expert I find myself feeling quite conflicted about this.

    On the one hand, it's a great thing and very necessary. It focuses attention on a critical quality of life issue that can so negatively impact us as human beings. (I could also spend a lot of time talking to you about positive stress as an essential life force but, in this blog, I won't.)

    On the other hand, when I consider how Stress Awareness Month plays out in most workplaces it is not good enough. On a practical level, it usually means that organizations will send out some emails from their healthcare provider or the health and wellness department, letting employees know that it is stress awareness month. There will be tips. With links to articles. Then, it will be over.

    Most employees however don't really need to be reminded about their stress. They are well aware of it, thank you very friggin' much, because they live it every day. Awareness is a band-aid when a tourniquet is more in order.

    With the latest research still showing that stress is the #1 work risk issue for employees, the real question is what are organizations going to do about it? Most continue to hand it off to health and wellness and hope that they'll take care of it. We already know that doesn't work very well

    If organizations really want to help employees with stress, and start reducing the billion dollar healthcare and performance-related costs associated with it, they can start by doing three things:

    1. Provide a confidential assessment  – so individuals can have a baseline measure of their personal profile allowing each to pinpoint their unique stress strengths and vulnerabilities. Stress is complex and multi-faceted. Assessment defines and clarifies the problem areas, removing the mystery and guesswork.
    2. Offer resiliency programming that includes education AND behavior change so employees can be equipped to manage the stressors they most need/want to improve. These programs need to move beyond the realm of "eat your broccoli and take the stairs" to include mental, emotional and behavioral resiliency with tailored solutions. Technology can help here.
    3. Expect the C-Suite to lead by example on this – get a leader from as high up the ladder as possible to introduce and spearhead a stress and resiliency initiative. In companies big and small it's always "follow the leader." Get the CEO, the COO, the CFO or anyone with a title ending in "O" to model the behavior of resiliency and good things will start happening.

    Happy Stress Awareness Month! Now get back to work

  • Esther Orioli 11:28 am on April 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Study: Millennials are more stressed than older generations 

    Milliennials experience higher levels of stress than other generations.

    The world that Generation Y came of age in is certainly different than that of their parents and grandparents, and this influences many things for them, including their stress levels. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association (APA), Millennials – individuals currently in their 20s and early 30s – are more stressed than any other age group. On a 10-point scale where 1 means very little stress and 10 means "a great deal of stress," the average of all American adults is 4.9. For Millennnials, however, it's 5.4.

    "Younger people do tend to be more stressed than older people do," Mike Hais, a market researcher and co-author of two books on that generation, including 2011's Millennial Momentum, told USA TODAY.  "It may be they are more willing to admit to it. It may be a phase of life."

    Other key findings of the study include:

    • 39 percent of Millennials say that their stress levels have increased in the past year 
    • 52 percent of young adults say that stress has kept them awake at night at least once in the past month
    • The top sources of stress for Milliennials   are work (76 percent), money (73 percent) and relationships (59 percent)
    • More than any other age group, Milliennials report being told by a health care provider that they have either depression or an anxiety disorder.

    Employers looking to help Milliennials with stress need to provide technology solutions that include personal assessment and behavior change. Most importantly, to be successful any stress or resiliency program should give individuals the choice to focus on the things they are most interested in improving, rather than dictating what they work on. When it comes to managing stressors and building resiliency, like so many things, self-interest drives behavior.

  • Esther Orioli 11:25 am on April 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    EQ becoming increasingly important at international firms 

    Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a key leadership trait.

    In a recent post we discussed a Gallup study that found that majority of companies pick the wrong members of a team to take a managerial or leadership position. Businesses often make the mistake of placing a disproportionate amount of importance on a person's experience and hard skills rather than their ability to lead. 

    While the Gallup study focused on companies in the United States, the same issue is plaguing firms in India, according to Live Mint, an Indian newspaper affiliated with The Wall Street Journal. Many of the human resources and leadership professionals interviewed by the source said companies in India have been slow to screen applicants for emotional intelligence (EQ). A few firms, however, are discovering that EQ is a critical skill for good leader. 

    "It's a competency. It is about understanding what you are feeling and what others are feeling," Pratap Nambiar, director of Leadership Circle India told the source. "It essentially includes things like empathy, compassion. It is like the elephant in the room, it is always there. When your emotion gets the better of you it means that you will do something that you will regret later."

    The key challenge for companies is finding candidates with just the right amount of experience and essential leadership characteristics. 

    Being a great leader involves more than having extensive knowledge about a subject or organization. Managers must also harness the power and acumen of their emotions, and use them as a source of energy, information, and connection, to inspire their teams and lead by example. The key challenge for companies is finding and promoting people who have just the right blend of experience and essential EQ competencies for leadership. Fortunately, EQ is a skill that can be measured and developed and that makes for a much bigger pool of candidates.

  • Esther Orioli 6:06 am on April 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Big Lie – Health and Wellness Programs Address Stress 

    While many organizations believe their Health and Wellness programs
take care of employee stress, surveys report stress is a bigger, and more expensive, problem than ever.

    As a stress and resiliency analytics expert working with global organizations, I feel compelled to talk about one of the greatest myths in the workplace that's costing U.S. employers $300 billion* annually.

    Everywhere I go, when I ask company leaders what they are doing to address employee stress, I hear the same thing, "Oh we offer a health and wellness program to all our people and it handles stress."

    There's the lie. Not intentional, but misleading nonetheless. Because if companies were doing a good job with stress, then their people would be healthier, more productive, more attentive and able to harness their creative energies. Instead:

    • Stress is (still) the number one workforce risk issue in the workplace globally. It ranked above lack of physical activity and obesity. In fact, it ranked higher than smoking, substance abuse and poor nutrition.**
    • Nearly eight in 10 (78%) companies identify stress as a top workforce risk issue, but employers and employees have vastly different opinions on the causes.**
    • 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.**
    • Some 83% of American workers say they feel stressed out by their jobs, up from 73% in 2012***

    Companies hope that employee stress is being handled by the health and wellness programs they already offer. Not so. Despite decades of traditional health and wellness programs targeting what's known as The Big Four of Health Promotion: nutrition, weight control, exercise, and smoking cessation, stress is a bigger issue than ever. And the skyrocketing healthcare costs associated with obesity, inactivity, stress related illness, and other expensive problems like depression and anxiety, are often outcomes of poor stress management, rather than root causes. That's how companies end up spending big bucks treating symptoms. It's like an exterminator who removes the mice but doesn't patch the hole where they got in. So after forty years of these types of programs being in place, stress is still a big workplace issue. A pervasive, expensive, "but what can we do about it?" problem.

    So what are they doing wrong? First, they lump stress under the health and wellness category, and focus on the physical symptoms, with little regard for its unique, contributory facets to productivity, overall performance, engagement, and poor interactional patterns of decision making, communications, and motivation.

    Another important thing they do wrong is to ignore the majority of their population that current day health and wellness programs are not addressing. How do The Big Four programs help healthy weight, physically fit, non-smoking employees who have a lot of stress? They don't.

    Further, stress contributes greatly to employee disengagement, a workplace issue costing U.S. businesses $450 to $550 billion per year, according to Gallup Inc.'s 2013 State of the Global Workplace survey. And that's also not being addressed by health and wellness programs.

    It's critical, and way overdue, for organizations to look at workplace solutions that specifically target stress and build resiliency. If they continue to ignore stress in all of its forms, emotional, mental, and behavioral, in addition to the physical, or to shove it under the catch-all of health and wellness, their healthcare costs will continue to rise, overall performance will drop and talent will leave. Most frustratingly, people will continue to suffer from this measurable and manageable current day issue. And you'll read about this again in next year's studies.

    *World Health Organization
    **2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, conducted by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health
    *** 2013 Work Stress Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive for Everest College

  • Esther Orioli 2:30 pm on April 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Study: Fear and technology keep Americans from taking paid time off 

    According to the survey, most American workers are not using all of their paid time off.

    American workers only use half of their annual paid vacation, according to a recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the career website Glassdoor. More alarmingly, 61 percent of the individuals polled said that they continue to work during their vacations, despite complaints from their family members.

    According to the survey, 85 percent of employees reported taking at least one day off in the past 12 months, leaving 15 percent who worked through the entire year. Taking time off doesn't necessarily equate to relaxation either. "It's clear the word vacation among employers and employees doesn't mean what it did in the past," said Rusty Rueff, Glassdoor career and workplace expert, in a press release. "Before technology allowed us to be connected 24/7, we were more likely to have actually 'vacated' our work for a couple of weeks a year, but now, it appears one full day away is a luxury."

    Some workers told Glassdoor that that they didn't take time off because they are afraid of getting behind. Others said that they were afraid of not meeting organizational goals.

    At Essi Systems, as stress and resiliency  experts, we find the results of these studies confirm what we've seen frequently in our work with organizations. . Without vacation there's no break from the day-to-day stressors of work, no downtime for the body and mind to rejuvenate. People's ability to stay adaptable, engaged, and energetic is severely diminished, leading directly to burnout. And when stress levels rise, the bottom line suffers to the tune of $300 billion dollars every year.  With employees still reporting stress as their #1 issue on workplace surveys, it seems everyone would benefit from unplugging and tapping into a little R&R.

  • Esther Orioli 9:29 am on April 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    High turnover, low engagement plague businesses with low EQ managers 

    Managers with higher EQ benefit the bottom line of organizations.

    A growing body of research suggests that workplaces are in dire need of managers with high emotional intelligence (EQ). While it's a common practice for companies to choose managers based on their tenure or their technical abilities, with no focus on skills like emotional intelligence, a 2013 study from University College London (UCL) found that manager EQ is an important indicator of employee engagement and performance. The researchers found that managers with lower EQ scores were more likely to have higher levels of staff absenteeism and turnover.

    And the same holds true for employee engagement, a critical component to business results according to Gallup Inc.'s 2013 State of the Global Workplace survey. The survey, which included 1.4 million employees, found that employee engagement affected customer ratings, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, absenteeism and theft — adding up to an estimated $300 billion in lost revenue every year. Furthermore, the survey cited that nationwide, only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged. In addition, according to the survey businesses pick the wrong candidate for a management position 80 percent of the time. With low EQ managers in charge, employee engagement drops.

    Clearly organizations need to prioritize building the EQ skills of their managers and, as UCL psychology professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic pointed out in his article for the magazine Chief Learning Officer, while EQ is an inherent trait, it can also be improved.

    "There is no single solution to the problem of bad bosses," Chamorro-Premuzic wrote. "However, by shifting an organization's hiring and promotion practices to focus on identifying candidates and incumbents with higher emotional intelligence, providing coaching for low-EQ managers who are willing to […], leaders can enable organizations to reduce the number of bad managers, increase staff morale, and become more effective, innovative and profitable."

    The good news for companies is that EQ is a skill that can be measured and developed.

    Essi Systems' EQ Map gives organizations a business-proven assessment that helps leaders pinpoint problem areas, develop EQ competencies and target improvements to increase the engagement and performance of their teams.

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