Stress: it’s “the health epidemic of the 21st century,” according to the World Health Organization, and estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion per year.

Sixty-five percent of workers cite work as a significant source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association, with one-third of workers chronically stressed (APA 2013) and another one in three Americans reportedly being extremely stressed. 

Prolonged exposure to stress-related situations can affect employees in a variety of ways. Employers need to be mindful of this and, perhaps more importantly, understand that many stressors stem from a variety of sources and, thus, can be alleviated by a variety of programs. Knowing this widens the opportunity for employers to assist employees.

The road to results

When additional opportunities to reduce employee stress are put to use, employers are creating a holistic approach that yields far better results than a traditional wellness program, addressing areas such as mental or emotional wellness, financial wellness and work-life balance.

A recent survey found that, on average, 96 percent of organizations support well-being components, and an average of 90 percent of active employees are eligible. However, only 39 percent of organizations operate with an integrated approach to well-being, as opposed to a more traditional approach.

"Only 39 percent of organizations operate with an integrated approach to well-being, as opposed to a more traditional approach."

What’s more, organizations that have integrated wellness offerings under an integrated well-being umbrella are more likely to rate the measured effect on health-care costs as “extremely positive or positive” (73 percent) compared to traditional wellness organizations (53 percent). These integrated well-being organizations are also more likely to rate the measured effect on employee satisfaction as “extremely positive or positive” (77 percent) compared to traditional wellness organizations (68 percent).

Examples of integrated well-being

Some organizations are offering programs on managing debt or implementing a budget to improve employee financial health, as well as yoga, massage and meditation classes to reduce employee stress. And then there is the tried-and-true offering that sometimes falls under the radar: employee assistance programs (EAPs).

Unlike the early days, today’s EAP service providers have broadened their offerings to deliver information, resources and avenues to minimize that wide spectrum of employee stressors, both at work and in personal life.

Obstacles to note

While a holistic approach to employee well-being may seem like a panacea for employers seeking to lower stress levels at the office, at least two issues are important to note. First, many employees may be reluctant or even unaware of all the stressors they are dealing with. Or perhaps they’re aware of them, but don’t know how to address them.

Traditionally, employees have been silent about their stressors, believing they shouldn’t be brought to work. Leading-edge employers are aware of this traditional mindset and are findings ways to solve for it. For example, GoDaddy found a way to address and reduce the stigma around employees who suffer from depression, anxiety or substance-abuse concerns—all stressors that some employees’ jobs may exacerbate—through the introduction of pet-assisted therapy. Adding this approach boosted employee participation: In 12 months’ time, 89 percent of employees who took advantage of the therapy had never used the traditional EAP before.

The second issue for employers to solve relates to communicating the well-being offerings available, and the benefit they provide to employees. It’s simply not enough to communicate during the new-hire onboarding process or the company’s annual open enrollment period. Employees tend to be reactive, so these programs must be communicated proactively to remain top of mind as an option when they are ultimately needed.

As the work environment continues to shift and grow, it is increasingly important for organizations to recognize the value of integrating well-being into a more holistic view of the employee. By taking this approach, employees’ stressors are reduced, and they then are able to shift their focus to the task at hand: their jobs.