Wellness Programs Take Aim At Workplace Stress : Shots - Health News A recent poll shows stress tops the list for people concerned about the impact of their job on their health. Workplace wellness programs often address stress, but many employees don't sign up.

Wellness Programs Take Aim At Workplace Stress

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We've known for a long time that stress increases the risk of heart disease, and many workers say stress is a critical issue on the job. That finding is from a recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. As NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, today's employers are starting to take note.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Go to a work site today, and you'll likely see things you wouldn't have seen in the past - an exercise room, weights, treadmills, parking spaces for bikes. Preventive medicine specialist Dr. Tim Church helps companies set up Workplace Wellness programs...

TIM CHURCH: They'll offer, like, water challenges. Are you getting enough glasses of water a day? They may bring in a massage therapist once every week or so. They may open up a room for yoga.

NEIGHMOND: ...And highly focused programs on nutrition, diabetes prevention and even help to reduce back pain.

CHURCH: You've got people who will do back exams in the workplace and who do, basically, physical therapy in the workplace.

NEIGHMOND: Why the focus on health? Pretty simple, says Church - healthy workers are more productive, and companies want to save money.

CHURCH: Health care costs to a company are now a major issue. They used to be an afterthought. As health care costs are continuing to skyrocket, it is the American employer who is taking the brunt of these costs.

NEIGHMOND: Fifty-one percent of the people we polled say their employer offers formal wellness or health improvement programs, but less than half say they take advantage of them. Now, another factor that contributes to stress on the job is that many people aren't taking enough vacation - a mistake, says psychologist Matt Grawitch with Saint Louis University.

MATT GRAWITCH: When workers come back from vacation, they tend to be under less stress. They tend to be more engaged. They tend to be more replenished.

NEIGHMOND: And yet, nearly two-thirds of the people in our poll who work 50 hours or more a week say they don't take all the vacation time they've earned. Grawitch says companies have to make changes that actively encourage employees to take their vacation and take advantage of wellness programs. It could mean more money, but Diane Domeyer, executive director of the staffing firm the Creative Group, says it's a good investment.

DIANE DOMEYER: Because there's a recognition that the cost of burnout, either in the form of lower productivity or, you know, in extreme cases, loss of employees or employees moving on, is more costly.

NEIGHMOND: More costly than what it takes to plan ahead and hire temporary workers to fill the gaps when regular employees take time off for stress-relieving exercise or vacation. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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