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Employers say stress is top workforce risk issue

November 13 2013

Stress is the top workforce risk issue, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity, according to the Towers Watson survey Staying@Work. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. employers identified stress as the biggest lifestyle risk factor that is a workforce issue.

“Employees seem to be saying, ‘support me, pay me and direct me,’ but employers are focused on other stress factors,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. “Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community — all contributing factors to workplace performance. Employers that fail to understand employees’ views on stress risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees.”

Lifestyle risk factors identified by employers as a workforce issue in the U.S.:

  • Stress: 78 percent
  • Obesity: 75 percent
  • Lack of physical activity: 73 percent
  • Poor nutrition: 57 percent
  • Tobacco use: 32 percent
  • Presenteeism: 21 percent
  • Substance abuse: 13 percent

Employers and employees reported different opinions on the causes of employee stress. U.S. employers ranked lack of work/life balance as the top driver of stress, while employees surveyed in our 2013 Global Benefits Attitude Survey ranked it fifth in importance. Employees ranked the workplace experience — inadequate staffing, low pay or low pay increases, unclear or conflicting job expectations, and organizational culture — as their top stressors, while employers ranked those factors slightly lower or very low.

The survey was completed between May and July 2013 in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia by a total of 892 employers. In the U.S. Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health jointly sponsored the survey, which included 199 participants in the U.S.

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