Addressing workers’ top complaint: stress

Editor’s note: This series of articles follows the progress, challenges and successes of several businesses in Keene as they take part in a new workplace wellness pilot program. The businesses include True North Networks, Hamshaw Lumber Company, The Cheshire Horse, Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, and Keene Beauty Academy.Many New Hampshire businesses may start workplace wellness programs in an effort to help stabilize health care costs, but several Keene area businesses have found that the benefits go beyond controlling company expenses and can actually address workers’ biggest complaint: stress.On-the-job stress is U.S. workers’ biggest complaint, followed by job pay, according to a 2010 Gallup Poll. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report says job stress poses a serious threat to the health of workers.Consequently, stress is taking its toll on the bottom line, costing U.S. businesses an estimated $300 billion per year.Also, according to the NIOSH report: • 40 percent of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful • 25 percent view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives • 29 percent felt quite a bit or extremely stressed at work • 26 percent said they were “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work” • Job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or family problems.What’s causing all this stress in the workplace? Workload demands, keeping up with rapidly changing technology and the challenge of managing enormous amounts of information all add to employee stress levels.As part of the worksite wellness pilot program, Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene conducted a Health Wellness Assessment to help determine programming and information about the top health issues facing its employees. Weight management and stress management topped the list.”In today’s workplace, everyone is trying to do more with less,” said Jennifer Begley, Worksite Wellness Program manager at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene. “Stress doesn’t go away. The employee wellness program is in place to help support a healthier response to stress and educate employees on ways to handle, manage and react to stress.”Begley explained that creating a culture that encourages taking regularly scheduled breaks has many benefits and can increase productivity and improve morale.Making healthy choicesAt True North Networks, President Steven Ryder said he believes that several breaks during the workday generate more creative thinking.”I know that some of my best ideas come from getting out of the office and walking. We sit at computers all day, and I’m trying to create a culture that encourages employees to get away from their desk, take a break and get out for a walk.” As part of the program, employees at True North also conduct 15-minute walking meetings.”We are all going in a million different directions. We all try to be healthy, but we decided to implement a more structured wellness program to help encourage each other as a group to be healthier,” said Jeanne Chappell, who co-owns Keene Beauty Academy with Kathy Hammond.There are many reasons for starting a workplace wellness program, from controlling health care costs to creating a culture of health and productivity in the workplace. Studies show that this not only increases morale, it leads to more productive employees.When beginning a program, it is important to consider your current work environment and what would generate interest and participation from your employees. Workplace wellness programs need not incur large expenses, and small changes can make a big difference. Encouraging lunch breaks, conducting walking meetings, offering healthy items in vending machines, or providing water and fruit at meetings can contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of employees.It’s about making it a bit easier for your employees to make healthy choices.If you’re ready to start a workplace wellness program, Barbara Leatherman of Hamshaw Lumber Company advises:”Get out there, ask questions, get involved – there are plenty of people to help.”Terry Johnson is director of HEAL NH. For more information and resources for businesses starting a workplace wellness program, contact him at 603-415-4273 or