At this time of year, many people experience a great deal of added stress. Not everyone shares Jolly Old Saint Nick's exuberance for gift giving and all of the seasonal trappings. In fact, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association more women than men feel stressed at this time of year. Another study reported that women spend on average 11 days preparing for the holidays. According to WebMD, the average American spends 42 hours a year on holiday activities. The report also indicated that more women are working outside of the home while still carrying the lion's share of the preparation related to family holiday traditions. Female workers don't leave the stress at home -- they carry it along to work.
Although many of the holiday preparations tend to happen outside of the workplace, there are often gift exchanges, work parties, and work-sponsored charity drives that add to an employee's already full slate. When all of these activities and expectations get mixed together, it can create additional stress for workers. Now add the spice of worries related to finances and a heaping of overspending for Christmas and you've got a recipe for stress boil-over.
Employers benefits from being mindful of the added stressors that come with this time of year. Here are my top tips for managing stress during the holiday season.
1) Provide timely reminders. If your benefits include access to an Employee Assistance Program, now is a great time to provide reminders of this confidential service and how to access it. If employees are struggling with extra aches and pains, prevention is the order of the day. Reminding employees of massage therapy available through their extended health coverage may prevent a muscular skeletal disability claim from being filed at a later date, which would be far coster than the price of a handful of massage therapy treatments.
2) Avoid over-scheduling. Assess how many activities are scheduled within the workplace. In the spirit of being a good corporate citizen, do you have too much scheduled for staff? Reviewing the December Calendar of Events may be helpful to assess if there are too many potential distractions or time away from work events that, although intended to promote goodwill and enhance employee engagement, may result in workers feeling torn because they want to participate but have too many unfinished assignments to complete. The result could be that they feel compelled to work overtime and that could have costlier outcomes along with potential burnout consequences.
3) Be realistic about December deadlines. This month is a time when many travel to be with loved ones for the holidays. Along with a shortened month due to statutory holidays, there is also the element of illness that creeps up on us during this time of year. It is the start of cold and flu season. Employees attend more social gatherings and risk greater exposure to germs. Mix planned absences, with unplanned ones due to illness or injury, and then throw in a few statutory holidays, and employers may feel the impact of a compressed work month. Consider adjusting deadlines where month-end deliverables are not a critical factor. Move what can be moved to create realistic breathing room for employees who are already experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Your staff and your clients will thank you as deliverables all have a ripple effect on timing and expectations for everyone.
This is a great time of year to slow down a bit, if that is possible given the nature of your business. Taking time to acknowledge the successes you've achieved in 2014 and celebrating them through recognition and praise that reflects the emotional currency valued by your teams is important before you dive headlong into working toward new goals set for the new year.
It is a season of joy, and a time to give thanks. On behalf of myself and my team here at AJG Benefits in Ottawa, thank you for allowing us to serve you. As always, we're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
I've blogged on the topic of debt management and saving for retirement on more than one occasion and while I've covered a lot of ground, I feel there needs to be a continued emphasis on ways to promote saving and addressing debt levels. I remain hopeful there there are practical, realistic, and inexpensive ways employers can motivate their employees to make better decisions about their financial future while increasing their financial literacy as well.
In a 2014 BMO Household Debt Survey, Canadians aged 35 to 54 have the highest debt levels, but seem to be less concerned about it than younger people. This survey also showed that this cohort had the highest average debt at $92,476 whereas those aged 18 to experienced more debt-related stress than others while carrying on average $20,000 less in debt.
The survey indicated that stress from carrying so much debt caused Canadians of all working ages (18 to 55+) to miss out on activities, have arguments with family and friends, and think about their debt multiple times a day. In addition, there is a greater tendency for debt-laden Canadians to lose sleep from the stress of their debt and to borrow money from family and friends in order to help manage household debt levels. All of these behaviours and symptoms don't check themselves at an employer's doorstep. They show up in the workplace with decreases in productivity, dips in employee engagement, difficulty accomplishing goals, heightened interpersonal conflict and increases in disability claims.
Even while Canadian workers carry high debt levels, there is a need to promote a focus on saving for retirement. While there are 10,000 baby boomers per day moving into retirement in North America, the generations that fall behind them need to carry a larger burden and perhaps a bigger safety net. With Generation Y seemingly more uncomfortable with carrying large quantities of debt, there are hopeful signs that their interest in saving for retirement will peak as well. Simple steps employers can take to make the transition to saving for the future are relatively easily introduced.
1) Ensure there is some form of group saving program available. Give serious consideration to introducing an automatic enrolment feature as well as auto escalation along with an employer matching incentive that motivates the employee to contribute as much as possible.
2) Meet employees where they are at and answer questions such as - Why spend time learning about investing? How could saving $5.00 per day make a difference? (Even small amounts add up over time) How can I save, grow, and get money? (looking at the various stages employees are facing and recognize their fears and concerns).
3) Incorporate various ways of sharing the messages. Paint a picture of an employee at difference career stages and provide answers and easy to access and use tools that create a clear image of the importance of facing debt issues head on and why saving early makes a big difference in the years to come. Leverage social media, face to face meetings, video technology as well as print. People have different learning style and preferred methods of downloading information. Make it as easy as possible for them to hear, read, and see the key messages about savings and debt-management. When you do, everyone wins.
Study after study indicates that businesses that provide strong employee benefits, clear communication and an emphasis on helping employees with financial literacy and debt management have higher retention rates, increased productivity, and enhanced employee engagement. We understand that this is a big topic requiring focus and perseverance. Knowing you're not alone makes a difference. We have lots of best practices and resources to support your efforts in this regard. Contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.