It's no secret that Americans are carrying massive loads of stress. According to a 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association, 67% of adults in the US have experienced increased stress during the pandemic. Much of that stress is due to finances: 64% of adults say money is a significant source of stress and 52% say they have had negative financial impacts due to the pandemic. The truth is, even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the American workforce was saddled with deep financial insecurity — a stressor that affects our physical and mental health, including our ability to focus and do well at work.
Forward-thinking employers understand that employees carry this boulder of stress with them to work and as a result, nearly every business metric, from productivity to retention, suffers. These leaders know that if they want to build a high-performance culture, they must help their workforce reduce stress.
To help HR leaders understand how they can help their people de-stress, Even & Thrive Global hosted a webinar featuring Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global and Even’s CEO Jon Schlossberg, entitled The Future of HR: De-stressing Your Workforce. The webinar was moderated by Telvin Jeffries, Former CHRO of Kohl’s, who queried Huffington and Schlossberg about how employers can help their workforce show up more balanced, relaxed, and ready to work.
Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington began by describing the present levels of stress as “astronomical” due to “unprecedented levels of uncertainty about the future, anxiety about the future, and the present” in addition to the massive loss of life occurring around us. “We even have a new term called ‘corona-somnia’ for people who can’t sleep at night,” said Huffington.
While concerns about many of those larger, global issues are easy to empathize with, Even CEO Jon Schlossberg noted that it's important for HR leaders to have a close knowledge of the personal stressors and challenges that employees are facing to be able to provide benefits that add real value.
“Part of being an HR leader, I think, is meeting your people where they are. Understanding what they're dealing with,” he said. “The number one reason people report being stressed out is because of something related to their money.”
According to Schlossberg, HR leaders should start by understanding why workers might not have enough money in the bank and not assume that 401K plans are the first step toward financial wellness. “Expecting someone who's living paycheck-to-paycheck to participate in a 401k program is like telling them that they should be outside watering their plants, while their house is on fire,” said Schlossberg.
Moderator and former CHRO of Kohl’s Telvin Jeffries posed a question of: how can HR leaders communicate the necessity of these benefits to C-suite executives?
Schlossberg answered that when it's time to make a case for a certain tool, let the data speak.
“...really look closely at how many people are using it and what happens when they do,” Schlossberg said, speaking about employee wellness benefits. “Because if something good happens over time, more and more people are going to use that thing.”
Huffington added that the hurdle of convincing the C-suite to address employee stress has been greatly diminished by the pandemic.
According to Huffington, it really took the pandemic for HR leaders to fully acknowledge the impact of stress on their business. “Dealing with stress, both general stress and financial stress, is no longer just a box to check. It's essential for building a thriving culture that is high performance,” said Huffington. “We have so much data that shows that productivity is going down during high levels of stress… Stress reduces the prefrontal cortex capacity and function. That affects productivity.”
Huffington and Schlossberg agreed that resilience is the key.
“What that looks like in real life is having more money,” said Schlossberg. “Because when you have money in your bank account, you can handle the stuff that life throws at you. That's what resiliency is.”
Schlossberg dubbed employee financial resilience a “new frontier in HR” that translates into “people having more cognitive energy, more time, and more of a will, a spirit to be their full selves at work.”
Arianna Huffington added, “We all have in us that place of resilience, strength, peace, wisdom. Most of the time, we don't live there. When we're feeling more resilient and less stressed, we are more likely to make better financial decisions.”
Even and Thrive Global are both companies that utilize the behavioral science of what Huffington calls “microsteps”, small incremental, daily changes.
“We have a lot of data that proves that it works. Whether it's people who use Even being able to save real money right away which gives us a sense of empowerment, or people using Thrive, using these 60 second resets during the day to course correct from stress.”
It's these small changes, both Huffington and Schlossberg say lead to less stressed employees and ultimately, positive metrics like higher retention rates, lower absenteeism, and higher productivity.
“If you have saved some money, and you can change your tire without going into major stress, it's going to affect your health,” said Huffington. “It's not just going to affect your mental health in terms of anxiety, it's going to affect your levels of hypertension. It's going to affect your levels of diabetes, or pre diabetes.”
An added benefit of reducing stress among employees? An improved employer brand, which can help a company compete for top talent. According to Schlossberg, CEOs care about their employer brand.
“If you want to improve your employment brand, the number one way to do it is not for you, the employer, to say how good you are,” said Schlosserg. “It's for the people that work for you to tell other people, ‘Hey, this employer changed my life! I have more money in my bank account. I'm way less stressed out. I've lost weight. My diabetes has gotten under control.’”
When implementing employee wellness benefits, both Huffington and Schlossberg stressed the need for HR and C-suite leadership to set an example for their companies.
Huffington said, “When it starts at the top, there is a cascading effect of cultural permission. And the recognition that the connection between wellbeing and performance applies across the whole organization.”
When it comes to leading by example in terms of financial wellness, Schlossberg lamented that our cultural prohibition on openly discussing money is hindering progress to that end.
Schlossberg said HR leaders need to have a “self reflection moment” and empathize with the financial stress of their employees. While HR leadership may not be able to relate to needing a payday loan to cover housing costs, they are likely to understand the stress that comes with a big money problem in a general sense, he said.
Huffington emphasized that reducing employee stress, including financial stress, is no substitute for big policy changes. “It's not a substitute for closing the huge gap in income or addressing injustices. It's something that we can do right now, starting today, that can empower us and help us lead our lives with less burnout while at the same time, we are working to make fundamental systemic changes.”
Schlossberg agreed. “There's a lot of reasons to be optimistic, but we do have a lot of problems to tackle. The way you tackle problems, especially when they're really big, is to immediately get started,” said Schlossberg. “Inaction is the only action which I believe is not acceptable.”
Thrive Global and Even offer proven employee benefits that help people live better lives. To hear the full discussion, including Huffington’s practical tips to help HR leaders reduce their own levels of stress, watch the replay of the webinar here.