In case you haven’t noticed, today’s workforce is completely stressed out. Overwhelming workloads, looming deadlines and the 24/7 always-on mentality is becoming the corporate America norm. Unfortunately, long-term stress can contribute to everything from heart disease to strokes, cancer and other grave conditions. Stressed employees also are more likely to be unmotivated, quit their jobs, perform poorly and have low morale and higher incidence of illness and accidents.

Because everyone copes with stress differently, some deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol, according to the American Psychological Association. This vicious cycle makes stress one of the top health concerns, with 49% of individuals at risk for stress-related illnesses, second only to weight, which impacts 69% of individuals, according to internal research.

All in all, employee stress is causing employers … well, stress. In fact, the cost of work-related stress in the U.S. is $300 billion annually, according to the American Institute of Stress. Further, behavioral-related disability costs have increased more than 300% in the past decade and account for 30% of all disability claims.

While more than two-thirds of employers have adopted some kind of health and wellness program, the majority doesn’t adequately address or even include solutions that support mental health. That’s why it’s critical to educate employers on the real cost of stress and the benefits of an effective stress-related wellness initiative to help keep health costs down, while keeping employee productivity and retention up.

What can employers do to break the cycle? First and foremost, stress reduction starts from the top-down as management and bosses play a key role in employee adoption and lasting engagement. Not only are they responsible for communicating about available resources, they need to literally and figuratively walk the walk. When leadership incorporates stress management into their own lives, employees understand the company's commitment to these practices and feel more comfortable taking a break.

Some of the most effective wellness programs leverage a variety of technologies that offer something for everyone and makes it easier for employees to engage and benefit, regardless of where they are or the time of day. Popular technology-based solutions include:

Digital health platforms. Connecting employees to health coaches, board-certified physicians, and colleagues who can provide support for those dealing with stress and offer guidance with chronic disease resulting from, or adding to, individuals’ stress levels.

Digital health games. Employees receive encouragement and rewards through fun, engaging games in which they compete against others in stress-busting exercise to reach health goals.

Wearables. Employees can sync popular wearable devices, such as their Apple Watch, to visualize the impact of guided meditations on their heart rate. Through smart feedback, employees can better understand which meditation exercises, locations, and times of day have the greatest impact on their heart rate, and therefore, stress level.

Virtual-reality-guided meditation. Combining an immersive VR with mindfulness meditation can help transport employees to relaxing environments, bringing a whole new dimension to the meditation experience. Using apps on their cell phones and portable VR headsets, employees are able to practice meditation from any place, at any time. In addition to stress reduction, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that meditation can heighten attention spans, improve sleep, reduce chronic pain and fight addictions like drug and alcohol abuse and binge eating.

The bottom line: Stressed-out employees can have significant health and financial consequences for your clients. With the start of open enrollment season just a few short months away, it’s time to start educating your customers about the benefits of incorporating mental health programs, like digital health platforms and meditation, into their corporate wellness plans to mitigate employee stress and improve productivity.

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