5 Reasons to Budget for Stress This Year

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.

I often hear people say they aren’t budgeting for stress solutions per se. But when you calculate how much they are spending (or losing) to stress in their workplace, budgeting for it is a no-brainer.

So here we are once again—the time of year when you lay out your goals. What do you want to achieve—and what resources do you need to make it happen? That is the annual question. It involves some critical assessment, seasoned experience, and a little hedging of bets, too.

But you don’t want to gamble on or give short shrift to managing employee stress. Why? Because key initiatives require an engaged and productive team to execute on them. Stress has been cited by Towers Watson as the number #1 impediment to an engaged and productive culture in the workplace.

Not convinced?  Here are the top 5 reasons to allocate funds for your employees’ resilience, wellness and engagement in next year’s budget:

1. Absenteeism rate has skyrocketed.
One million US workers are absent each day from their jobs due to stress. This is a significant part of the $300 billion lost to American businesses each year by the stress of their employees. And HR departments and employers are underestimating the problem. The old statistic that 14% of the absenteeism is due to stress? Wrong. It’s more like 50%.

2. Employee engagement is way down.
Research shows that people are connected to their jobs at one of three levels.

Level 1: They’re just there for the pay and benefits.

Level 2: They like their work and their colleagues.

Level 3: They feel like they contribute to something important through their work.

The higher their level of connection, the greater their resilience against work-related stress. And the greater that sense of connection, the more engaged—and less vulnerable—they are.

(Read more about why your mission matters.)

3. Your employees are too stressed to use your wellness programs.
It sounds counterintuitive (after all, isn’t that why you HAVE those wellness programs?). But the fact is this: Stressed people are 25 percent less likely to exercise, 30 percent less likely to eat healthy, get half as much sleep, and are 200 PERCENT more likely to fail at weight loss programs according to the American Psychological Association. Stress inhibits behavioral change; as a result, these programs are chronically underused. This is a lose-lose situation. Because the very people you’re not reaching are the very people you created these programs for. If you want to boost your employee health, resilience, and morale (not to mention cut health care costs), you need to tackle stress first. If and when you do, you’ll see more people taking advantage of the programs you’ve put in place.

4. You don’t have a benchmark for stress in your organization.
HR departments spend so much time and money on training, and the jury is out on whether these initiatives are actually working. Not everyone in your organization is wrestling with stress in the same way, and some areas within your organization are probably more stressful than others. Look for a comprehensive survey of stress in your workplace and the ability to isolate the most stressed parts of the organization so you can intervene in a cost-effective way, and then continually measure effectiveness over time.

5. Employee engagement affects your bottom line.
Don’t underestimate the power of engagement on your profits. A study by Quantum Workplace showed that publicly traded companies with engaged employees saw 2.5% more growth in stock price than those with lower employee engagement. Engagement is not to be confused, by the way, with an employee’s personal happiness or satisfaction (though it can lead to both). The degree to which she feels attached to her job, and feels her efforts matter, will determine better service and result in happier customers—and higher profit margins.

(Read more about the vital link between resilience and profits.)