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On-the-Job Stress – Take Control!

Excessive Stress on the jobHow often have your heard a colleague at work groan about the inherent stress of the workplace? Perhaps you hear complaints about how unsupportive the supervisor or the manager is when dealing with the daily workload? Maybe YOU are the one complaining? Or just maybe, YOU are the manager or supervisor who others are complaining about!

Job stress is not a bad thing…unless, of course, you have too much of it for a long period of time. Having some stress is actually good because it releases hormones that can speed up your heart, allow you to breathe faster, and give you a burst of needed energy. As with most everything else in life, stress can be manageable as long as it is in moderation.

Michael Ford, an assistant professor of psychology at Albany State University of New York, recently presented at a conference in Los Angeles about how uncontrolled stress on the job can impact the physical and mental well-being of employees and their families. Though very concerning, organizations can heed this ‘wake-up call’ and avoid an excessive stress-related environment by changing internal practices to reflect a positive culture.

A few key items revealed at this conference (many are quite intuitive, I might add) include:

  • High levels of job stress and work-life stress may result in mental health problems, such as increased levels of depressive symptoms and negative health outcomes. Cardiovascular disease has been a clear link, along with obesity and general physical health complaints from survey participants.
  • Heightened job stress can reduce positive health behaviors, such as healthy eating, exercise, having appropriate sleep, etc.
  • Relationships at home suffer, such as marriage quality and critical time spent with children.

Ford found that people in supportive work environments tend to be more supportive of their spouses and family life. But the one big takeaway from his findings? Managers and supervisors are a primary source of work support – or work stress. (hint-hint!)

According to WebMD, job stress is typically caused by:

  • Lack of control over work or job duties – this can be the biggest cause of stress.
  • Increased responsibilities – too much work to do and saying “No” is not an option.
  • Job satisfaction and performance – not having a meaningful job can be quite stressful.
  • Uncertainty about work roles – Lack of job duty direction.
  • Poor Communication – Not being allowed to talk about needs, concerns and frustrations.
  • Lack of support – If you’re not receiving support from your boss or co-workers, it’s difficult to solve stress-related problems.
  • Poor working conditions – Working in dangerous work areas that are unpleasant.

The above job-related stress issues remind me of our 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study, as posted in our March 2013 blog, “What Iowa Employees Value Most – Lessons to be Learned?” Employees highly value a workplace environment with a family-supportive culture that attempts to control job-related stress. This should make a great deal of sense to any employer, and frankly, it can be implemented in any organization quite easily.

What culture does your organization reflect?

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Employers and Health Data – Who is the Trusted Resource?

Health care data Resources in IowaLast week’s blog discussed a new module of questions we have included within our 2013 Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. Within this new module, employers are being asked to rate hospitals and physicians within their communities. Probing further, we included another battery of questions to gauge how employers feel about another health-related issue – identifying a reliable source to supply specific health care information to employers (and to their employees).

Frankly, these questions boil down to just one word – Trust.

Which resource does the Iowa employer trust when accessing and evaluating health care information for their employees? Would it be insurance companies? Maybe the medical provider community is most trusted, such as hospitals and/or physicians. The federal government is yet another possibility (I’m a bit suspicious, however). Perhaps, none of the above mentioned stakeholders, but instead, a trusted third party that has yet to emerge in this new evolving marketplace. Logic tells me that employers would like to use a combination of the above resources – not just one source. Much of this, I suspect, will also depend on the type of medical data that is desired by employers.

A large portion of the questions found in this particular module come from the Iowa Hospital Association (IHA). Transparency of health costs and effective health outcomes information is becoming a trendy discussion these days, with special thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The IHA has a great deal of interest in understanding how Iowa employers perceive these critical issues, and in learning more on how such information can be conveyed in a meaningful conduit of media (electronic format being the most likely culprit).

I applaud the IHA for their desire to find new ways to communicate and educate a major stakeholder (the employer) regarding local health care information. The healthcare snow globe in which we live continues to provide new opportunities for those willing to take the plunge to make our current health care ‘system’ a better place for all of us.

This particular survey module will provide us with additional insight on who should be providing this important information to Iowa employers, and what this critical information should convey.

The results of this survey will be published early this Fall by our new, sister organization, Heartland Health Research Institute.

To learn more, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Iowa Employers to Rate Health Care Providers

Rating Iowa Health Care ProvidersIn our 2013 survey, we are asking Iowa employers to rate hospitals and physicians within their communities on 11 important performance measurements. Without a doubt, this particular module of our 2013 Iowa Employer Benefits Study© will be quite fascinating. To the best of my knowledge, Iowa employers have never been asked to rate health care providers in their communities – until now.

It’s about time.

Asking Iowa employers to rate health care providers will be important for a number of reasons. Two key reasons are:

  1. Employers contribute a considerable portion of the medical insurance premium for employees and their families. From our 2012 Iowa Employer Benefits Study©, the average employer contributes about 80 percent of the employee-only premium, or about $4,400 annually. The employee contributes the other 20 percent, or $1,065 annually. For employees with family health insurance coverage, the employer pays about two-thirds of the annual family premium ($8,900), while the employee pays the other one-third ($4,657). Needless to say, the average Iowa employer is very generous when picking up the health care tab for their employees.
  2. Despite annual premium increases, Iowa employers have CONSISTENTLY absorbed escalating costs since 1999 (the first year our Study began).  Employers make this ‘investment’ to maintain and improve the health and well-being of their workforce. The illustration below compares Iowa to the national average on employee contributions for health coverage since 1999. The national numbers come from Kaiser/HRET.

Average Percentage of Premium Paid by Covered WorkersThe two reasons above help illustrate the necessity of having Iowa employers provide input on the “value” they receive from this considerable outlay of money to our health care provider community. How Iowa employers perceive the performance of health care providers will cast an important light on measurement area(s) that may need improvement. Our new module of questions will help us understand just how satisfied employers are with this perennial investment. We do realize, however, that there are other external influences that must be accounted for when assessing the provider communities – such as public policy issues, insurance vendor arrangements, patient engagement, etc. 

The 11 performance measures will be based on a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 means “failing” and 10 means “excellent.” The performance measures for both hospitals and physicians include:

  • The transparency of costs
  • The transparency in medical outcomes
  • The coordination of care among providers
  • Keeping costs reasonable
  • Consistent quality of care
  • Focus on wellness and health promotion
  • Access to services
  • Electronic health records
  • Efficiency
  • Concern for patient satisfaction
  • The ability to engage patients

Finally, employers will also be asked to provide feedback on how much they trust (or don’t trust) the medical provider community in which they operate. As mentioned in previous blogs, TRUST is an extremely important measurement to any industry, but absolutely critical in the health care world.

The results of this important survey will be published early this Fall by our new, sister organization, Heartland Health Research Institute and will be shared with the public.

To learn more, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.