Workplace stress is a worldwide issue with new data indicating stressed-out employees are a contributing factor to the global rise in health care costs.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, as part of its OECD Better Life Index, finds that job quality can drag down employee well-being and overall health and that stressed-out employees are experiencing extensive medical problems. 

“Workers in high-strain jobs, that is jobs with high demands but with little workplace resources, are more likely to suffer from burnout, develop musculoskeletal disorders, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and mental health problems,” says Sandrine Cazes, a senior economist for the OECD, in a recent report.

Cazes adds that 20% of European employees report having “difficult work situations, facing multiple stressors without adequate support and resources to cope with.” In the U.S., meanwhile, more than two-thirds of Americans say that work is a major source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual survey.

Also See: Stress continues to boil up in American adults: APA study

According to Julie Stich, director of research at International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, employees have been dealing with more stress since the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent recession.

“Stress levels amongst employees keep rising. Part of it is kind of left over from the recession when more and more [employees] were asked to take on heavier workloads and perhaps cover jobs for people who were let go or who were never replaced,” she says.  

Whether employees experience a loss of productivity from poor sleep or lack of concentration because they’re focusing on health issues, employers do realize the effects of stress on their business, Stich believes. It’s important for employers to create structured plans to deal with stress through their employee assistance programs, she says.

At the University of Minnesota, employers and employees have access to a slew of stress-reducing programs, which include its Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program and the Mindfulness in Motion program. Both are offered as part of the UPlan Medical Program’s wellness offering. Operated out of the university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, the stress management program has grown from being used solely by patients dealing with the stress associated with pain and organ transplants to wider use by workers to help them deal with the general stresses of daily life.

According to Beth Somerville, business development head at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing, mindfulness is not a new school of thought, but is relatively unknown to the wider employer community. She says this is primarily due to the lack of data in the benefits space that supports the cost savings associated with mindfulness techniques.

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