Workplace Stress: Pay Now or Pay More Later

It’s great that more and more companies are setting up health and wellness programs to help employees deal with the stress of today’s fast-paced, high-volume workplace. But there’s another element that’s still missing:

Organizations need to look at the amount of workplace stress they’re generating in the first place. Never in our history have we witnessed the colliding conditions that we are experiencing today, and the result is that workplaces are causing stressful conditions at a greater and faster rate than even the most accomplished stress gurus can mitigate.

Many employers provide Lunch and Learn sessions on stress management, work-life balance and other wellness topics. They also provide EAP programs, gym facilities and even monthly massages. All of this is commendable, but it’s not enough. In my medical school training, whenever we learned about a new disease, the therapeutic protocol was always divided into two parts: first prevention, then treatment. Unfortunately, even in the medical field, the concept of prevention is too often given lip service and short shrift. But its importance cannot be overestimated. Focussing on prevention of stress is also more humane than waiting until it needs treatment, and it’s much more economical. The cost of workplace stress in Canada is more than $50 billion a year in lost productivity and health-care costs. Absenteeism is expensive. Sick leaves are expensive. Burnout is expensive. Staff turnover is expensive. Lack of employee engagement (“presenteeism”) is expensive. Add to that the cost of EAP programs, insurance, gym memberships, massage therapy, Lunch and Learns and you get a large expense.

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