A little something “just for me” goes a long way

What’s the one thing most employees have in common? Stress. White collar or blue, young or old, married or single, with kids or without …workplace stress continues to be a major concern to Canadians.

According to this year’s edition of the Aventis Healthcare Survey, conducted by Ipsos-Reid, 62 per cent of Canadians report that they are experiencing “a great deal of stress” on the job. That is up an astonishing 15 per cent from last year. And, 34 per cent of Canadians with health benefit plans (up from 25 per cent last year) agree with the statement: “Workplace stress has been so overwhelming that it has made me physically ill at times.”

In fact, those who say they are experiencing a great deal of stress at work are five times more likely to say that they have been physically ill because of stress. The survey also found that 31 per cent of those who report illness related to workplace stress also say they have taken six or more days off work in the last year. Forty-one per cent, equal to last year’s finding, say their employer does not do nearly enough to help them manage stress at work.

“The results of this survey sound the alarm about growing stress on the job and its very real effects on the health of our workforce,” said Jean-François Leprince, president of Aventis Pharma Inc. of Laval, Que. “Employers who want to avoid the escalating costs of workplace stress and its associated illnesses and absenteeism have a higher stake than ever in helping their staff deal with the effects of the quickening pace and increasing pressures of life at work and home.”

Employers can help minimize employee stress with negligible impact on the bottom line by expanding the scope of their work/life benefits — especially their resource and referral networks. Resource and referral services have traditionally connected working adults to dependent care providers for their minor children and aging parents, and provided resource materials to help balance the resulting demands of home versus work.

What these services often do not do, however, is help employees help themselves. By giving employees access to the information they need to care for themselves, they can find their own personal solutions to controlling stress and balancing their lives.

“Just for me” benefits are to resource and referral as a day spa pass is to a harried individual. You don’t have to be a parent with child care responsibilities or a working adult with elder caregiving responsibilities to appreciate and benefit from “just for me” benefits. Think of it as a waiting oasis where you can go to indulge your own needs and satisfy your personal goals.

“JUST FOR ME” FOR CAREGIVERS
According to a Conference Board of Canada survey of Canadian workers, a daughter or daughter-in-law cares for 69 per cent of seniors who rely on a child for caregiving. Almost 40 per cent of caregivers are under 44 years of age (see chart page G11) and half find it difficult to balance personal and job responsibilities. There is a significant direct cost to the employer associated with this form of caregiving in the form of absenteeism (see chart page G11). Employers should also consider the indirect cost related to healthcare benefits and employee retention.

These caregivers can and should tap into their employer’s resource and referral network to find information they need to care for their elder friend or relative. They can get names of care providers in their area, obtain information on meals on wheels or transportation services.

What about personal help for the caregivers themselves? They need care as well. By tapping into a “just for me” topical library of resources and referral network, caregivers can get educational assistance on depression, anxiety, caregiver well-being, burnout, support systems, coping with grief and loss — a host of information they need to take care of themselves.

Especially in light of these statistics, organizations need to evaluate their work/life programs to make sure they are providing something for everyone. Perhaps more than any other alternative, making sure that an organization’s resource and referral network addresses the total spectrum of life issues is an efficient and effective way to offer meaningful work/life benefits to all employees.

“JUST FOR ME” FOR YOU
Male or female, young or old, with kids or without, “just for me” benefits can help individual employees with resource materials on:

•health appraisal;

•assertiveness;

•anger management;

•goal setting;

•time management;

•project management;

•second career options; and

•job change/relocation.

NOT A CURE-ALL
“Just for me” benefits are not the long-awaited panacea for what’s ailing business and its changing workforce. It is, instead, one tool in the HR manager’s toolbox that speaks to all employees at all stages of the work and life continuum. Individual fulfillment is the goal of “just for me” benefits, and the hero for making it happen is the conscientious employer.

Denise Markley is vice-president of operations at Cypress, California-based Work|Life Benefits. She can be reached at (714) 677-8686.

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