Author’s note: The most important asset of any business is its employees. That’s why my organization, the American Heart Association, convened a group of top CEOs to combine innovative strategies and best practices for employee health and well-being, all with the aim of offering our findings to companies of all sizes. Here are details of our latest effort, as reported on news.heart.org.
Stress in the workplace can take a significant toll on health, and many people are looking to their employers for help.
The problem is, many workplaces don’t have programs that are proven to help people rebound from job-related stress, according to employees surveyed in a new report released by the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable.
The report, based on a large volume of peer-reviewed data examined by the AHA’s Center for Workplace Health Research and Evaluation and a nationwide Harris Poll, assesses the current role of “resilience” programs at work and offers guidance to companies seeking to help employees deal with stress.
Research cited in the report noted that stressed people sometimes turn to smoking, drinking excessively and overeating — all of which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and other major health problems.
“Stress makes people behave in adverse ways,” said Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of cardiology research and the department of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University who specializes in stress and recently published research about it. “Even if you control for such factors [as smoking or obesity], studies have found that just stress is a contributor to heart attacks.”
The Harris Poll cited in the report found that 76 percent of employees said resiliency programs would be at least somewhat valuable, yet only 25 percent said their employers offer them.
When such programs are offered at work, participation and satisfaction are very high, the survey found. Nearly 80 percent of employees say they take advantage of resilience programs. Of participants, 73 percent said such programs improved their health.
The online survey conducted between July 31 and Aug. 16 included 1,001 adults at companies with at least 25 employees that offered a health care plan.
In a separate study conducted last year, the Center found two in five employees reported their job gets in the way of their health, and a quarter said they either often or always feel stress due to their jobs.
Work stress appears to be growing as companies push for more responsibility on fewer employees and expect them to be available 24 hours a day, said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health and the Women’s Heart Program at NYU Langone Health.
“People feel like they have no downtime,” said Goldberg, who also volunteers for the AHA. “I hear about stress all the time, though lately I’m hearing it more from younger workers.”
Forty-two percent of older millennials surveyed, ages 28 to 36, said they are stressed because of work, while 92 percent said training would be beneficial. Younger millennials, ages 18 to 27, were the second most likely to suffer from work stress and value resilience training. No workers over age 71 said they suffered from work stress, but roughly half said they thought resiliency training was a good idea.
Millennials may be more inclined to feel stress because they are often trying to balance young families with their careers, Vaccarino said.
Experimental research has found resiliency training appears to play a low to moderate, though statistically significant, positive effect on employees’ mental and physical health, and work performance outcomes. More research is needed to better define resilience, measure it accurately and understand its full impact on health, the new report found.
Even so, Vaccarino suggested companies may want to implement resilience training programs anyway, because employees perceive they work.
“The way people feel about their health is very important,” she said.
The report was released in conjunction with the AHA’s annual CEO Roundtable meeting whose membership consists of more than 35 CEOs representing some of the nation’s largest employers. The CEO Roundtable works to improve employee health through evidence-based approaches.
“As employers are broadening their wellness programs to encompass well-being, this paper provides actionable strategies for effective workplace resilience programs,” said Kathy Gerwig, vice president for Employee Safety, Health and Wellness and Environmental Stewardship Officer at Kaiser Permanente.
“On behalf of our CEO Roundtable, we are delighted to share this resource to help organizations build healthier workplaces, particularly in the new economy where emerging strategies are essential to integrate overall health and well-being for employees,” said AHA CEO Nancy Brown.