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The Elephant in the Workroom: Financial Stress

22 May. 2018 Posted by ameulendyke

Amara Lang, Junior Account Manager

The environment we live and work in affects perception, outlook, mood and physical and mental health. From the physical layout of a workplace to the people and culture within, multiple variables shape how we view the world. Sometimes these variables can be good and others can be not-so-good.

While some employees may have a comfortable position and make comfortable money, others aren’t feeling so comfortable. According to the Social Security Administration, half of American workers make less than or equal to $30,533.31 per year. To put this into perspective, the federal poverty line for the same period for a family of three is $20,160.

Productivity in the U.S. has continually risen alongside wages since the 1940s. Beginning in the 1970s, this changed. Even though productivity continued to rise, wages stagnated. While one might challenge this narrative in saying “but I just read that wages have increased over the past couple of years!,” real wages, or wages adjusted for inflation, have been stagnant or even decreased for most workers for a generation. It’s no wonder that out of the 150 million Americans in the workforce, roughly one out of three work multiple jobs.

It’s also not surprising to learn that eight out of ten workers live paycheck to paycheck. While that might be manageable with expected expenses, emergencies inevitably occur. Alarmingly, 46 percent of American workers can’t afford a $400 emergency and most workers can’t afford a $1,000 emergency. Well, why don’t we just budget? With flat wages and rising expenditures, Americans are budgeting – or at least trying to. In fact, most paychecks are spent on essentials like housing, transportation, food, health care and utilities. Even with a paycheck, 80 percent of Americans are in debt.

The American workplace is, no doubt, physically and emotionally taxing. Unfortunately, most workers now report feeling financial stress as well, a number that’s been rising since the recession. Stress leads to poor health outcomes.

Whether it means supporting open communication, encouraging work amongst different departments/groups/individuals, or promoting social gatherings or potlucks, supporting a working environment that fosters relationships amongst team members is an effective way to reduce stress, including financial. Moreover, a recent study showed that the most important factor for reducing stress and thereby negative health outcomes is having strong relationships, particularly with social support by a supervisor. In short, having a support system is key, especially having a supportive boss.

In lieu of supportive humans, animals can be a major stress buster. Petting an animal has been found to increase the release of happy hormones, reduce stress and improve mental health. Other stress busters include journaling, deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, napping, yoga or meditation. Don’t forget the little things like putting down the smartphone, avoiding multitasking, planning ahead, getting organized and using humor (laughter is the best medicine after all).

Even encouraging employees to take some time for themselves, like daily 10-minute brain breaks or a day at the spa, can decrease stress. And of course, exercise and diet play major roles in reducing stress. Evidence is increasingly pointing to a linkage between the gut biome effecting brain health, with a healthy diet leading to a healthy brain.

Financial stress is common, and tools exist to help managers and their employees cope with the burdens money can create. For information and resources on stress and tips for managing it, the workforce can always contact its Employee Assistance Program (EAP). For those who have a financial benefit as part of their EAP, contact a representative about paying down debts, budgeting and attempting to save.

 

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