Smart employers know that being proactive about the flu season can aid the bottom line by keeping employees healthier and reducing sick days. But they may not realize that becoming proactive about employee financial stress can also boost productivity and profitability.

“The latest studies show that when you’re stressed you get sick. And, when you get stressed about money, you can get really sick,” notes Best Money Moves Founder and CEO Ilyce Glink.

A Propeller Insights study of more than 1,000 U.S. adults found that 30 percent reported feeling “constant stress” about money, while 85 percent were “sometimes stressed.”

The American Psychological Association reported similar results in its latest “Stress In America” report. About one-third of respondents fear unexpected expenses. Thirty-percent experience stress when thinking about saving for retirement, while 25 percent find the ability to pay for life’s essentials stressful.

“The impact of financial stress is pervasive, negatively affecting not only the employee’s financial well-being, but also their physical well-being, engagement, productivity, absenteeism and even loyalty,” PwC wrote in a special 2017 report on stress and the bottom line. “All of these factors can come at a considerable cost to the employer.” For a company with 10,000 workers, the productivity cost of such distractions is estimated at $3.3 million per year.

It is well known that stress harms people via negative reactions on the body, mood and performance. Issues can be as short-term like a headache or more involved, such as sustained drug and/or alcohol use.

The APA reported more deeply on how stress affects each body system:

  • Musculoskeletal. Muscles tense up as almost a reflex reaction to stress. Chronic stress can possibly trigger other reactions such as a migraine.
  • Respiratory. Stress can make a person breathe harder, possibly leading to asthma or panic attacks.
  • Cardiovascular. Stress can cause an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscle. Eventually blood pressure can rise and, in serious cases, this can lead to an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack or stroke.
  • Endocrine. When the body is stressed, so-called stress hormones can affect the adrenal glands, cause the liver to produce more glucose, a potential issue for those vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Gastrointestinal. Stressed individuals may eat more or less than normal. Stomach aches become more likely and chronic stress could lead to the development of ulcers.
  • Reproductive. In men, chronic stress can affect testosterone production and sperm production and maturation. For women, stress can affect menstruation, fuel PMS or cause fluctuating hormones.

Employers have long offered on-site gyms or discounted membership to help reduce stress. Others have enhanced employee benefits with boosted vacation time and emphasized work-life balance.

But more are offering financial wellness platforms that go beyond helping plan for retirement.

PwC suggests that employers look to “change both money attitudes and everyday behaviors that have lasting effects.” When this mantra becomes part of company culture, employees see their peers facing similar challenges and benefiting from a company support system that, according to PwC’s study, helps get spending under control, pay off debt, save more for major goals, better plan for retirement and/or better manage healthcare expenses.

Chris Hardesty is a financial writer.