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by Vault Careers | November 18, 2010


Brace yourself for more distressing job statistics: according to a new Harvard study, women in stressful careers or work conditions are a whopping 88 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks.

Presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions event, the 10-year study is the most comprehensive to date in tackling heart health concerns for women. Specifically, it identifies key factors which put female professionals at risk, including strenuous workloads, job insecurity and social isolation.

The findings are troubling, but hardly surprising. Now more than ever, doing more with less has become standard operating procedure for employers. But as greater demands are made of staff, leaders must bear responsibility for accommodating their needs. Steps must be taken to preserve and bolster human capital.

This looks like a job for… HR

Whether it's supporting an aging workforce or just boosting morale, it behooves employers to remain vigilant of employees' health and well-being. This begins with human resources; the HR department is the first line of defense in maintaining a stable office and staff, and assessing individuals' work/life needs.

According to Vault human resources manager Patricia Gonzalez, "People come to my office because they need advice on how to manage their stress." HR's primary goals are "to attract and retain the best employees" and maintain "workplace security," both of which are jeopardized by stress and poor health. "Burnout and coping with small or big stressors all affect employee wellness."

"As a human being," she adds, "I also want everyone in our office to be healthy."

All's fair in health and wellness

One step that Patricia recommends is organizing office wellness programs, with regular events geared to promote physical and mental health. "I partner with our health carriers to provide health fairs, which are aimed at focusing employees to take a look at their personal habits."

The fairs are "a good opportunity to push for health initiatives." On the surface, they serve as a refresher on best practices for health and safety. Going further, they encourage staff to pursue fitness goals that can increase their longevity—as well as their energy and drive.

If that sounds a little dull, Patricia makes sure to sweeten the pot. As an incentive for attending, employees are entered into raffles for such prizes as gym memberships or relaxing spa appointments.

One way or another, she says, "Every employee's well-being, both mentally and physically, will enable us to reach our goals."

Show me the way to go home

Any firm worth its salt should provide an adequate work-from-home plan. When one's home life proves too demanding, or if the work environment isn't conducive to his or her output, telecommuting options are a must. Not only does it spare the stresses of commuting, but it affords more time to focus on home and family without losing work hours.

One professional who benefits from telecommuting is Vicki Lynn, Vault's Vice President of Research and Consulting. "The nature of my work requires extensive travel," she states; but, by operating out of her home in Albany, "I am able to return to my home office and 'detox'—refresh and rejuvenate so I am delivering 100 percent at all times."

At home, Vicki describes herself as "laser-focused." Her house is a "tranquil" environment with "no noise, no music, no one talking in the background" to distract. "I can get up at 5 A.M. and get right to work in my jammies if I want," she boasts.

"I love knowing that I have control over my work environment, which impacts my productivity and results."

Vicki makes a crucial point: One's environment and comfort therein plays a major role in effectiveness. Without a sense of security or ease at work, employees can suffer burnout, fatigue or, as the Harvard study points out, failing health. Thus it falls upon leadership to recognize these factors, if they hope to retain talent.

Failing to address stressful conditions sends negative signals about the company's regard for employees' well-being—which, as the job market slowly recuperates, fewer professionals will stand for. Neglect, it would seem, offers only a lose-lose outcome: employees either drop out, or drop dead.

-- Alex Tuttle,


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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