Indian employers rank stress as #1 lifestyle risk factor

Globally, the causes of poor health are remarkably similar; however, the tools, abilities and resources needed to address these vary greatly across regions

April 23, 2014 3:48 IST | India Infoline News Service
Stress is the number one lifestyle risk factor, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity, according to the inaugural Asia Pacific edition of the Staying@Work survey conducted by global professional services company Towers Watson. While Indian employers lead their regional counterparts in developing strategies to manage work-related stress, only 38% identified improving the emotional/mental health of employees (i.e. lessening the stress and anxiety) as a top priority of their health and productivity programs. This signals a vast scope for improvement in strategic initiatives aimed at tackling stress among Indian employees.
Globally, the causes of poor health are remarkably similar; however, the tools, abilities and resources needed to address these vary greatly across regions. Nonetheless, multiple issues related to stress are driving the need for a greater organisational commitment that extends beyond employees’ physical and mental health; one that encompasses the work environment, culture and interpersonal relationships that connect employees to the mission and goals of the organization. The 2013 Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey highlights that the main sources of stress for employees across the globe are tied to their experience at the workplace.

“Stress is directly linked to physical and emotional health – important contributing factors to workplace performance. It is noteworthy that Indian employers fared better than their Asia Pacific counterparts in managing employees’ work-related stress. Integrating various initiatives into a comprehensive and robust health and productivity strategy is a gradual process, but the fact that Indian companies have begun taking positive strides in this direction augurs well. In a challenging economic scenario, where companies are stretched to balance costs and maximise productivity, employers need to identify specific triggers that impact employee wellness, engagement and in turn productivity - failing which, they run the risk of diverting time and resources to fixing non-critical issues and alienating their workforce at the same time”, said Anuradha Sriram, Director – Benefits, Towers Watson India


Top causes of work-related stress:

When quizzed on sources of stress, Indian employees rank unclear or conflicting job expectations (40%), inadequate staffing (lack of support, uneven workload or performance in group) (38%) and lack of work/life balance (38%) as the top three reasons according to Towers Watson’s Global Benefit Attitudes Survey that polled 22,347 global workers out of which 7,094 workers are in Asia Pacific (2006 workers are based in India).


In Asia Pacific, the top contributors were inadequate staffing, low pay (or low increase in pay) and lack of work/life balance. Globally, inadequate staffing is common as the single most important contributor to work-related stress.


Top causes of work-related stress for employees
  India Asia Pacific United States EMEA
Unclear or conflicting job expectations 40% 29% 36% 33%
Inadequate staffing (lack of support, uneven workload or performance in group) 38% 41% 52% 49%
Lack of work/life balance (excessive workloads and/or long hours) 38% 32% 24% 28%
Organizational culture, including lack of teamwork, tendency to avoid accountability and assign blame to others 32% 31% 33% 31%
Low pay (or low increases in pay) 29% 37% 38% 28%
Technologies that expand availability during nonworking hours (e.g., mobiles, notebooks) 27% 16% 8% 9%
Lack of supervisor support, feedback and not living up to their word 26% 23% 23% 22%
Lack of technology, equipment and tools to do the job 18% 18% 13% 15%
Fears about job loss, too much change 16% 16% 20% 22%
Fears about benefit reduction/loss (e.g., lower value or loss of health care coverage, reduction in retirement benefits) 12% 16% 11% 7%

Offering flexible working hours most common among Indian employers to manage employees’ stress:

The report attempts to analyse top solutions adopted by employers that are aimed at creating a workplace culture that proactively manages stress. Indian employers promote flexible working options (50%), organize stress management interventions (e.g. workshops, yoga, tai chi) (43%) and undertake education and awareness campaigns (41%) to help their employees manage stress.


Interestingly, while 85% of US employers promote Employee Assistance Program (EAP), only 2 of every 5 Indian employers are following suit. Written guidelines on stress are ranked last in the list of Top 10 steps taken by employers to manage stress with only 10% of Indian employers favouring that option.

Top 10 steps taken by employers to manage stress
  India Asia Pacific United States EMEA
Flexible working options 50% 40% 51% 50%
Stress mgmt interventions (e.g., workshops, yoga, tai chi) 43% 38% 39% 16%
Education and awareness campaigns 41% 41% 40% 26%
Promotion of employee assistance program (EAP) 40% 24% 85% 29%
Specialised training for employees 30% 26% 23% 39%
Training for managers 23% 24% 34% 41%
External resources used to design and deliver program(s) 16% 12% 23% 18%
Expanding EAP and other services to dependents 15% 10% 46% 25%
Anti-stress space 12% 10% 10% 4%
Written guidelines on stress 10% 9% 7% 9%

The report reveals the growing recognition among employers that the workplace experience can both contribute to and reduce employee stress. As a testimony to this trend, an increasing number of employers are planning lifestyle change programs that are not as prevalent as of now. Almost 1 in every 3 Indian employers has instituted stress or resilience management programs in 2013 and an almost equal number plan to follow suit in 2014. With stress being ranked as the #1 lifestyle risk factor in India, this number is likely to grow.

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