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by Vault Consulting Editors | December 01, 2009

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Watson Wyatt has just released its 2009 Staying@Work Report, which showed some pretty dramatic results—namely, that stress has an adverse effect on health (and, consequently, on companies’ health care costs). The report is based on a survey of 282 companies in North America.

The good news: Despite pressures to cut costs, the Watson Wyatt study shows that many large employers in North America (more than half of those surveyed) are actually making advances in improving worker health and productivity. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said they are boosting their stress-management offerings, employee assistance programs and “health coaches.” As they should be: The study also showed that employees at this time are experiencing more stress (I wonder why …) and are taking increasing advantage of the health services on offer at their company.

What’s the advantage of boosting your company’s health programs? Watson Wyatt says companies with the most effective employee health and productivity initiatives more likely to have lower health care costs, lower levels of presenteeism, fewer lost days due to disabilities and lower levels of turnover relative to their industry peers. The bottom line is that companies must stay on top of employee health, stress and productivity in order to cultivate an overall healthy work environment.

Ideally, spending more on health care offerings will pay off for companies, as it will result in healthier, happier and more productive employees. That said, it seems that companies are really only hitting the surface-layer of issues affecting employee health—i.e., the economy, swine flu, perhaps, etc. The greater problem—one that is endemic to corporate America—is the fact that most companies cite excessive work hours as the primary cause of employee stress. Second in line is work/life balance. Of companies citing these drivers of employee stress, only about one-third of them are putting initiatives in place to combat those forces.

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