Last year, 2020, was horrendously stressful for many people and 2021 has not been much better so far.
This is not just an anecdotal observation, even if as observations go it would be fairly safe after the year we’ve all just had.
Instead, research backs it up. Multiple reports have shown that stress levels were at an all-time high in 2020, most recently an interesting study by e-days. They found that there was an increase in days taken off work through stress and yet the number of people taking time off work had stayed roughly the same.
What this shows is that stress was worse when it occurred, deeper, more troubling and something that, typically, took longer to recover from.
Other research will show that actually stress was more prevalent, it is something ever-more people are having to deal with. Maybe a lot of this stress did not lead to time off work, but it was there nonetheless.
What, though, can any employer do to help counteract the stress – help to minimise it even if completely removing it is outside of their control.
Workplace benefits alone cannot solve it, we would not be so bold as to claim they are a silver bullet, but they can help.
Specifically, workplace benefits achieve three things, each of which does a little to help combat employee stress.
It is worth noting too that the stress does not have to be related to work, indeed it often has nothing to do with work. In many cases, work may be the one thing that does not stress the individual and so the stress might not lead to time off work, though it might lead to lowered productivity.
There are some workplace benefits that can help to directly reduce the impact of stress, they are set up for this very reason.
One key benefit is the Employee Assistance Programme. This is a service as much as a benefit, it is a system of support that is always there and available.
The Employee Assistance Programme gives all employees access to a 24/7, fully confidential helpline and support network. The employee can discuss any issue that is of concern to them, this can be work-related, but often it has nothing to do with work, at least not beyond impacting performance.
It could be that addiction is a problem, or bereavement, or depression. Stress would be precisely the sort of condition that an employee could seek help for, using the EAP as a means to talk through their issues, yet knowing that it was in confidence with experts who are not linked to the employer in any way.
The Employee Assistance Programme cannot necessarily cure an issue – and any serious health concern including stress should always be referred to a GP. What the EAP can do is stop things getting worse, they can help the individual find a route forward, perhaps by following some of the advice offered.
Other times, just having that conversation is enough – we can all struggle to find someone to talk to, do we discuss major issues with our boss, partner, friends or family? Sometimes an expert from the outside is the best person.
The Employee Assistance Programme is easy to set up and highly affordable.
An employer can also offer discounted healthcare insurance, this available as a salary sacrifice and so far cheaper in real terms.
A second group of benefits do not directly tackle stress, but they encourage a healthy lifestyle that can help us to feel good about our selves.
It is established that regular exercise can help to reduce depression, stress and mental health concerns and so any benefit that encourages this active lifestyle is to be encouraged.
Discounted gym membership is one of the most popular workplace benefits. Take up is always high as it provides a service people are looking to use, only at a cheaper rate.
Better still, the benefit can encourage others to use the gym when they might otherwise not have considered doing so.
We find that in many workplaces, the fact that many employees take advantage of the gym membership has a snowball effect, with ever more then following suit.
This is a huge benefit in that it means that those who otherwise would not have carried out so much exercise instead taking steps to remain fit and healthy and boost their mental health in the process.
The Cycle to Work scheme is similar, the act of getting on the bike and cycling to work releasing those all-important endorphins and helping us to feel that bit better about ourselves and life in general.
Benefits that help to reduce stress are not all linked to health and fitness, helping people to manage their life can also reduce the burden.
One such benefit is the holiday exchange scheme, this was established to give employees the freedom to buy or sell a week’s holiday and so adjust their quota as required. For instance, someone with school-aged children might choose to buy one more week’s holiday to make childcare easier during the summer months.
During 2020, we saw this benefit take on added significance as so many balanced homeschooling and working, with the lines becoming blurred. An ability to get that bit more holiday helped many to battle through with some degree of order.
Many benefits don’t directly tackle stress, but they serve to make life that bit easier and so that has an impact.
Even benefits purely for pleasure can help. Can a Dining Card benefit reduce stress – we would argue that it can, it enables people to get 50% off their bill at a huge range of eateries. This in turn might lead to them having a meal out that bit more often with friends or family, and this, in turn, is something to be looked forward to and enjoyed. It is an event that does that little bit to reduce stress.
The third way employee benefits help to reduce stress is simply through the process of having a discussion.
On an individual or wider level, asking the question ‘how can we help’ can start the process of reducing stress.
What benefits would be useful, how can the business or organisation adapt to make life easier, what are the challenges you face in balancing work and home life as we come through a global pandemic?
Nobody set up workplace benefits with the pandemic in mind and so, naturally, the benefits offered do not fully reflect this changed world.
Simply starting the conversation and listening can be the first step towards helping to reduce any stress issues, especially those that do have some link to the workplace, or whereby work is a factor.
At Enjoy Benefits, we have great experience in helping companies of all sizes introduce benefits that are suitable for their workplace.
Benefits are easy to set up and ongoing administration is then run through a hub, this allowing employees to manage their own benefits while the employer can see which benefits are proving popular and what level of take-up each has had.
If you would like an obligation free chat to discuss which benefits might work for your business and your employees, please contact us by calling 0800 088 7315 or using our Contact Form.