General Motors’ spending on health care for employees sets them back more than their bill for steel, adding a full $1,500 to their costs per car, a state of affairs that their CEO has called a “crisis”. There are several reasons for high healthcare costs – relatively generous agreements with labor unions, the high price of brand-name drugs and administrative budgets which swallow about a quarter of the total spending. However, barring major structural changes in the healthcare industry, companies large and small should be looking at ways to reduce this expense.
Preventative care should be part of any such strategy. While it might be difficult to get employees to stop smoking, exercise more and develop better habits in general, there is one route towards healthier employees that is both easy to implement and cost-effective, namely offering online mental health counseling to all employees.
Stress and Health
By now, it is an established fact that stress and particularly work-related stress is not just a problem in its own right, but plays a major part in raising the risk of diseases ranging from heart conditions to diabetes. A rough day at work not only raises blood pressure and disturbs hormone levels by itself, but it can also lead to unhealthy choices outside of work such as smoking and overeating. Every job entails some level of strain, but this can become a clinical problem when a person is expected to tolerate high levels of stress for an extended period.
Professionals specializing in employee assistance claim that, apart from family crises, the most prevalent problems affecting people in the workplace are stress and the closely related condition of depression. If an employee cannot anonymously access treatment in the form of counseling, or is expected to pay for it out of his own pocket, these conditions might not be addressed effectively in their early stages. If allowed to reach major proportions, this could end up making him leave the company, reduce the number of hours he’s willing to work or take more frequent sick days.
The cost of treatment, particularly when offered online during the period when workplace stress is only beginning to affect an employee, is usually much lower than the lost productivity caused by such absences. Magnifying the problem is the fact that people in key positions are often exposed to higher levels of stress due to higher amounts of pressure and responsibility. By the time chronic stress has developed into a chronic condition such as hypertension or diabetes, both increased spending on healthcare and significant losses in productivity are inevitable.
Mental Strain and Productivity
It will not be a surprise to anyone that a business works as a team and its remaining profits depends on the combined efforts of all involved. Conversely, it would not be an overstatement to say that a mistake on the part of any employee, from the CEO to a forklift driver, can hurt the entire company badly. These kinds of mistakes need not mean burning down a factory: missed strategic opportunities, unnecessary arguments, health, and safety errors are all likely results of leaving a workplace if stress is untreated.
Anxiety can destroy a person’s capacity and willingness for taking initiative, while constant pressure can ruin interpersonal dynamics. Workplace stress is also a leading cause of insomnia which is unlikely to raise an employee’s level of productivity. Poor decision-making skills, procrastination, and emotional volatility are all linked to high levels of stress.
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Of course, offering online counseling to employees will be a pointless gesture if the root causes of stress in the company are not addressed – a lack of direction or communication by management, unreasonable workloads, uncertainty about employees’ future with a company and so forth. Unfortunately, doing so typically requires an investment of resources as well as a long-term commitment from management. Making free or subsidized online counseling available to all employees is not a complete solution to ridiculously high healthcare costs, but it is something that can be done in one day for a very limited expense.