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For an effective wellness program, help employees manage stress

Kathryn Mayer - BenefitsPro

Want to create a successful wellness program? Ask your employees how upset they are.

Simply asking employees to rate their stress level may help identify individuals who can benefit from wellness programs to reduce stress and improve overall health, a new Mayo Clinic study suggests. The study was published in the most recent issue of The American Journal of Health Promotion.

Many organizations offer wellness programs for employees or members, which often cut health care costs and boosts productivity. However, many people drop out or decline to enroll, explains Matthew Clark, lead researcher and clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic. So there needs to be a better way of addressing the situation.

“Wellness programs and centers typically initially focus on physical fitness and weight loss,” Clark says. “Perhaps by addressing other domains of wellness—stress management, work-life balance, spirituality and resilience—employees might gain the confidence and skills to truly achieve better overall wellness.”

Mayo Clinic researchers surveyed 13,198 employees who joined a Mayo Clinic employee wellness center when it opened in 2008. Employees rated their stress levels on a scale of 0 (as bad as it can be) to 10 (as good as it can be) and answered questions about quality of life, fatigue, exercise, diet, smoking and health problems.

High stress levels (0 to 3) were reported by 2,147 employees. When compared to other employees, high-stress employees reported a lower quality of life, poorer health, less support and more fatigue. They also were more likely to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol, and to be overweight. The high-stress group had less confidence than their non-stressed peers in their ability to make changes to improve their overall health.

The study showed the biggest differences between stressed and non-stressed respondents were in fatigue levels after a regular night’s sleep and in current quality of life.

So, instead of expecting tired, stressed participants to run off pounds on the treadmill, Clark suggests organizations offer them yoga, tai chi, meditation, stress management classes or sessions with a personal wellness coach that would help them reach overall wellness goals.

“There is no one best approach to manage stress. We are all unique,” Clark says. “But by bolstering resiliency, employees may be able to successfully make lifestyle changes and achieve wellness."

The Mayo Clinic study did not examine any correlations between work performance and stress levels.

“Stellar employees can be stressed about meeting exceedingly high personal expectations,” he says. They may be top performers, but their quality of life is diminished.

“Surveys have shown that stress is a common workplace problem,” he says. “Our research acknowledges that stress affects many aspects of health, and it’s possible to easily identify who might benefit from resiliency training.”

Clark will present his team’s findings at a free webinar as part of the American Journal of Health Promotion Authors’ Series, on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at noon CT/1 p.m. ET. To register, go to https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/418557305.

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com