The UK seems to be in the middle of a stress epidemic, which often manifests itself in the workplace. But just how widespread is stress at work, and what benefits can employers use to address at least some of the causes and symptoms? John Charlton reports
The 2010 IRS stress management survey
(SMS), published by XpertHR, collected
the views of 98 employers on how they
were managing stress at work. It found 79 per cent of them had taken or are
taking steps to reduce work-related stress.
Report author Rachel Suff, XpertHR employment
relations editor, says: “The majority of employers
have introduced, on average, at least six different
measures to deal with stress at work.”
These include advice on healthy eating and free
or subsidised health screening, employee assistance
programmes, discussions between managers and
staff about stress issues, and offers of flexible
working options. As the survey findings indicate,
benefits can be powerful weapons in any
employer’s anti-stress armoury.
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are,
arguably, the benefits weapon of choice in the fight
against workplace stress. They are designed to
support employees with work and/or personal
concerns. These may include relationships, bullying
at work, health- and alcohol-related problems, or
financial and legal issues. Employees can usually
access their EAP via 24-hour telephone counselling
helplines or even face to face.
Steve Joyce, head of marketing at benefits
specialist Ceridian, says: “Giving employees access
to an EAP as part of their benefits package ensures
the workforce has much needed support to deal with
personal and work-related issues on a confidential
Many benefits providers offer EAPs, including
Jelf. Director Matthew Judge said “hard data and
results” on their efficiency “are hard to come by”.
But he points to data from global EAP specialist PPC
Worldwide on the impact of counselling provided as
part of an EAP programme. This found 74.7 per
cent of employees, in more than 800 cases, “said
they had got better after counselling was provided
via their EAP”.
Jill Pollock, health and wellbeing consultant at healthcare specialist Bupa,
says EAPs “have a fantastic impact” on reducing stress and absence levels.
“There’s a significant body of evidence that they reduce absence rates by 20 per cent to 60 per cent,” she says. But how much do they cost?
Eugene Farrell, chairman of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals
Association, says costs vary widely from £30 ($49.50) per capita for a group of
200 employees, £10 per capita for a group of 1,000, or less than £7 for a group
of 3,000. But he cautions: “It’s important when selecting EAP providers not to
automatically select the cheapest option, as you really do get what you pay for.”
Duty of care
Mark Eaton, director of EAP provider Personal Group, says employers that offer
EAPs are “not only showing that they think about their employees’ wellbeing, but
are also addressing their duty of care to the workforce”. This may help when it
comes to fighting a stress claim in the courts or at tribunal, where claimants may
argue a stress-related illness was due to employer negligence.
Although there is no statute law covering stress specifically, it is covered in
various pieces of legislation, such as the 1999 Health and Safety at Work
regulations, while amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act in 2005
mean that stress may qualify a sufferer as disabled.
Other than EAPs, the benefits that help employees cope with stress revolve
around health, wellbeing and fitness. Fit and healthy workers are less likely to
suffer from stress or be regular absentees. Benefits such as health and dental
cover, screening, occupational health, gym membership and cycle-to-work
schemes fall into this category.
Insurance and cash plans
Private health insurance (PHI) or private medical insurance (PMI) can be very
expensive for employers, and employees will usually be taxed on it as a benefit
in kind. But comprehensive cover will certainly help relieve stress in employees
worried about an illness or condition. And it usually means faster treatment than
on the NHS and therefore - probably - less time off work.
Cash plans are a cheaper alternative. Simplyhealth provides Simply Cash
Plan, which starts from £1 per employee per week and gives telephone access to
advice on health and wellbeing issues, plus child and elder care advice.
Employers that want to add face-to-face counselling for employees and support
for HR and line managers would pay from 15 pence per employee per week.
Cash plans cover some of the costs of treatment which are claimed back from the plan provider.
Many will cover dental treatment, and demand could soon be on the up - recent reports indicate
that more people are suffering bruxism, the medical term for grinding of the teeth.
The British Dental Health Foundation says “stress is probably the major reason - people
not being able to cope with things going on in their work or love life or having money
Dental benefits are an obvious answer. Benefits provider Denplan says its research shows
four in 10 people in the UK put off visits to the dentists because of cost. “This is a troubling
statistic when considering the current economic climate,” it says, adding that dental costs
“look set to increase”.
“This is where offering dental cover as a company benefit can really play a vital role,”
says Pam Whelan, Denplan corporate sales manager. “Dental problems can be extremely
stressful. They can not only affect people’s ability to eat, sleep and work and socialise
effectively, but may contribute to lifelong oral and general health problems.”
Alcoholism and occupational health
Another sign of stress is alcoholism, which can be a very sensitive issue. But Dutch company
Tactus International may have an answer. It plans to launch a website,
Lookatyourdrinking.com, which will act as a gateway to a 16-week programme of treatment at
a cost of about £2,000 per head.
UK managing director Marco Martinez says: “Our plan is to offer our services to
corporates via their intranet sites. Employees will be able to access therapeutic help for
alcohol problems anonymously. We can provide anonymous aggregated management
information back to the corporate, and they pay only for those people that engage in
treatment. The website can be branded, but is generally provided free of charge, provided
treatment is made available to employees.”
Finally, for those employers that can afford it, providing an occupational health service to
employees will help to identify and tackle stress.
Courtesy of Personnel Today www.personneltoday.com