Mental and emotional health spilling over to financial stress: study

Stress hurts, and it’s not just about mental and emotional health strain, it’s also about financial stress, according to a workforce well-being survey by Buck Consultants.

Where physical well-being is concerned, “one of the headlines that screams at us is stress,” said Ruth Hunt, a principal in the engagement practice and global well-being survey lead at Buck, speaking at an event hosted by the consultancy in Toronto last week. “We’re seeing it around the world; it’s an epidemic. The data in Canada actually shows we have higher stress levels.

“If I’m highly stressed, it does impact physical health conditions, we know that for a fact. We also know there’s a big gap in terms of health literacy for the average individual to really understand what they need to be doing to prevent a more serious chronic event, and to even just stay compliant to simply do what you’re doctor is telling you.”

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The survey, which polled 252 global employers, found health literacy is required to engage and drive behavioural change, and employers need targeted solutions to build it. Stress is a bottomline issue for employers, it found, and financially stressed employees spend three hours or more each week distracted by it.

“Validated by other research, a majority of employees live paycheque to paycheque today,” said Hunt. “And as a result, financial well-being programs are rising and must help address current needs on the way to retirement.”

The study found the U.S. and Canada are the most financially stressed countries globally. When it comes to designing financial well-being programs, 67 per cent of survey respondents said the top priority is promoting saving for retirement. 

In addition to understanding employees’ retirement income needs and gaps, employers must also understand the extent of barriers and pain points, like student loan debt, according to the study. This would allow for prioritizing solutions where enhanced financial health is concerned, it noted. “We have to not just be focused on retirement,” said Hunt.

Read: Buck launches online HR platform for employers

The survey also found a culture of well-being was a top aspiration for employers, with 40 per cent of respondents saying they have one. Among those who don’t, 81 per cent said they want a culture of well-being in the workplace.

The most frequently offered employee health benefits, which also prove the most effective, were employee assistance programs, health screenings and health risk appraisals, access to immunizations and fitness centres and flexible working policies. Notably, 75 per cent of millennials said they want to work flexibility.

In Canada, EAPs, flexible working polices and workplace design came in as the top three most offered and effective health offerings. As their top concerns, Canadian and U.S. respondents cited physical exercise (78 per cent), stress (63 per cent), followed by work environment and safety and access to health services.

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