Stress Effects: What are the corporate costs?

Stressed Over MoneyI wrote the other day on the personal health effects of stress. So, what is stress doing to our businesses? The costs of stress to  corporations run broad and deep. From our previous article on what stress and fear do to the individual, you can probably surmise what it does to a company – because a company is just what – a group of individuals.  The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars in absenteeism, lower productivity, employee turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses each year —  $300 billion dollars! 

Burnout and health damages – Obviously, first and foremost the health damages and burnout of a company’s most valuable assets – its employees  — is the biggest cost. And, there will never be a way to get our arms around quantifying the extensiveness of that.

Disengagement & lack of motivation – Next, let’s look at how the burnout aspect causes disengagement and lack of motivation. Do you have any idea how many people in your workplace have hit burnout and have not left or died but have actually stayed — and are now operating in a disengaged mode? They’ve hit burnout and know their health is not worth going on in the same all-out fashion. So they have pulled back and slipped it into cruise control  — ‘Let’s see if we can somehow coast into retirement under the radar.’ Of course these stress-toasted individuals know how to look busy at the appropriate times, but their internal flames for the company have gone out. Disengagement is a coping skill, and there are so many more life tools employees can have that keep them engaged, happy and passionate about their life’s work.

Self Medication – Can we ever quantify the productivity costs of the many, many people that turn to self-medication as a coping mechanism – over eating, drugs and alcohol – as a way to assuage their pain.  How many people do you know that have a few beers or glasses of wine at night to take the edge off and finally relax? How many turn to pills? What are the costs associated with the loss of health and energy due to these self-medicating behaviors and, for some, the resulting addictions?

The Productivity costs of Fight-Flight-or-Freeze – Let’s look at fight-flight-or-freeze and the fact that many employees today are operating in the workplace under a continual low-grade amygdala hijack. Distraction and lack of attention eats deeply into productivity. In its  recent annual wellness report, Employee Assistance Program provider ComPsych found that 38% of employees can’t stop thinking about  job, emotional, health and financial concerns. Also, in a published Harvard study in which participants were beeped by a smart phone at various times per day, the result found 47% reporting at these key times weren’t attending to the thing they were supposed to be attending to, but instead they’re minds were wandering – 47% – that’s almost half! How can we ever accurately access the productivity costs of  disrupted focus caused by stress?

Decrease in Creativity and Innovation – Creativity definitely suffers in a stressed-out environment. For a company to thrive it must innovate – think of ways to capture its audience, outperform and stand out in the global market place.  Creativity happens when the mind, body and spirit are at ease, at peace. When people are trying to create with emotional turbulence or with their judgment (their left brains turned up), they are constantly critiquing their work and/or the team’s work and ideas don’t easily flow. In cultures where good ideas are routinely shot down and there is much fear and worry about what other’s will think or how ideas will be received, the creative flow becomes stifled.  The costs to bottom line due to stifled innovation and creativity are great, but again hard to quantify.

Skyrocketing Health Insurance Costs – And, of course one of the biggest and most obvious costs that is already factored into the $300 billion number is that of skyrocketing insurance rates and health care costs. When Aetna implemented a mindfulness program to target stress in their workplace, they started with the most stressed out professionals. They tested people and let the people that tested highest on a perceived-stress scale  into the program. In the group of people who scored themselves as having super high stress, they saw a $2000 average decrease in their yearly medical costs. That’s a $2000 differential per person per annum!

Please take care of your most valuable corporate assets – your employees. To reduce the effects of stress in your workplace, please take a look at my mindfulness-based stress reduction program called Internal Intelligence™ and be sure to fill out an inquiry form if you would like to schedule a call to answer any questions.


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