Firms advised to help workers in stress management

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Companies that are highly effective in their health programs and workforce management are more likely to adopt a multi-faceted, holistic approach to health and productivity (H&P), according to the 2013/2014
“Towers Watson Staying at Work Survey” conducted by the global professional services company.

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“High-effectiveness organizations actively look into what drives employee health behaviors and risks,” said Dr. Rajeshree Parekh, Asia Pacific director—Global Health and Group Benefits, Towers Watson.
Such an approach would include a focus on data, the commitment and support of senior leadership, and effectively integrating technological tools.

“This kind of approach is crucial to ensure employer and employee interests are aligned, and that employers have a long-term view to success. It’s particularly important in a year where stress is found to be the number-one workforce risk issue in Asia. The sources of what causes stress are historically tough for employers to nail down, and our research shows that employers are struggling to tackle it,” Parekh added.
The survey showed that stress is ranked as the number-one lifestyle risk factor—ranking above physical inactivity and obesity—by employers in all countries in Asia Pacific, with the exception of China, where it is ranked second. However, when asked about which priorities were top of mind when developing their H&P programs, only a third (33 percent) cited improving the emotional/mental health of employees. In this regard, they are ahead of some of their mature-market counterparts. For example, in the United States, only 15 percent cited this.

Only approximately one in four (26 percent) of employers in Asia currently offer a program on stress or resilience management, it added.

“While stress can energize workers to meet challenging goals, it can also overwhelm them and interrupt business performance,” Parekh said.
“Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community—all contributing factors to workplace performance. But when employers do not fully recognize what causes stress, they risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees,” he added.

Actions taken
The survey also showed that the top three actions taken by employers to tackle stress are: education and awareness campaigns (implemented by 41 percent of employers); flexible working options (40 percent); and stress management interventions such as yoga and tai chi workshops (38 percent). However, many employers continue to take no action.

Fourteen percent of Asia Pacific employers said that they have implemented none of the programs suggested in the survey, and this includes 22 percent of employers in China, 16 percent in Singapore, and 10 percent in India. Only 5 percent of employers in the United States said the same.

“This is not only a lack of action issue but also Asian employers have yet to go beyond low-cost/no-cost actions,” said Parekh.

“The top three steps taken are all relatively low-investment, both in terms of time and resources. Employers would do well to look at longer-term options such as promoting an Employee Assistance Program, which requires more planning and resources upfront, but would lead to a greater payoff in the long run,” he added.

The Towers Watson survey was completed between May and July 2013 in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia by a total of 892 employers. In Asia, the survey had 372 respondents from China, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

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