You know financial stress can put a strain on your wallet, but you probably don’t think about the strain it can have on your body. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans recently released their 2017 Workplace Wellness Trends Survey. Over 500 employers were asked to select the top medical conditions that keep company healthcare costs high. Seven of the top ten health problems listed are exacerbated by financial stress.
Not surprisingly, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America study, one of the largest contributors to emotional stress is financial instability and worry. Of all studied stress-indicators, this area has consistently topped the charts for over a decade.
Here are five of the most common health problems associated with financial stress.
1. High cholesterol. Thirty-three percent of Americans admit to overeating when stressed out. Even if your employees aren’t reaching for donuts to cope with their financial stress, high levels of cortisol – the hormone released during emotional stress – can increase the amount of fat in a person’s blood (the triglyceride count). On its own, high cholesterol generally doesn’t have noticeable symptoms but it can greatly increase a person’s risk for a stroke, aneurysm or heart attack. The amount spent on cholesterol medications in the U.S. tops over $18.7 billion, annually.
2. Depression and Anxiety. The range of emotions associated with and caused by debt (of any amount) can lead to depression and anxiety – two of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S. In fact, depression and anxiety are characterized as the body’s natural physical response to stress. While symptoms will vary from person to person, over time, both depression and anxiety will lead to health problems, which increases the chance for heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders and gastrointestinal conditions.
3. Hypertension/High Blood Pressure. When emotional stress is present, it is immediately followed by a temporary spike in blood pressure, leading to hypertension. The coping mechanisms associated with stress – overeating, drinking alcohol, smoking and poor sleep habits – make individuals with high levels of stress more prone to the disease. About a third of the U.S. population currently suffers from hypertension, with a price tag of roughly $46 billion a year.
4. Heart Disease. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease accounts for seventeen percent of America’s national health expenditures. By increasing the amount of adrenaline and cortisol in your body, stress increases your heart rate, elevates levels of triglycerides and weakens the walls of your arteries. The current annual price tag for heart disease is at $273 billion.
5. Diabetes. Although now manageable with strict lifestyle changes, a regime of insulin and other medication, nearly one in eight Americans lives with diabetes. The mind’s subconscious response to stress is to physically prepare it for flight or fight. This includes making glucose and fat available to the body’s cells to use as energy. For diabetics, this stress-related elevation of glucose can cause greater insulin-resistance, ultimately making their illness worse and managing their diabetes more difficult.
Knowing how financial stress affects your employees’ health is a great start. Is there anything you can do as an employer to reduce that financial stress and get your team feeling relaxed and healthier? The answer is yes. By taking even the smallest of steps towards alleviating this financial stress, your employees will not only know that you care for their wellbeing, you’ll actually be making a positive difference for their health. You can encourage new behaviors while also using what is already in your arsenal of employee benefits:
- Recommended computer breaks to allow your employees to move around for just a few minutes – at least once an hour. This offers mental as well as physical stress relief.
- Offer healthy food options in the break room and around the office so employees aren’t tempted to reach for junk food. This will keep their energy levels up and their overall health in check.
- Remind employees to use their untapped voluntary benefits that can help with stress, like counseling or discounted gym memberships.
- Encourage your employees to use their unused paid time off. Unused vacation days are at a forty year high, with nearly fifty percent of PTO going unused last year. Paid time off is the perfect way for your team to destress, spend time with family, catch up on personal responsibilities and refresh energy levels.
- Offer financial wellness benefits – whether you promote financial awareness, create a new benefit offering or offer financial education courses, this is going to be the number one financial stress relief for your employees, in the long term.
Considering that financial stress accounts for sixty-one percent of overall stress, helping employees gain access to financial management tools can mean tackling the root cause of the problem – not just managing the symptoms. There’s no universal cure for stress, but investing in your employees’ wellness is an investment for your company, which decreases healthcare costs while increasing productivity. A win for everyone.