Work-related stress takes a heavy toll on union members. Symptoms may start out innocently enough — a headache or trouble sleeping — but left unchecked, stress can precipitate a whole array of health problems, from high blood pressure and obesity to diabetes and heart disease. What's more, chronic stress can even cause changes in brain structure that impact functions like memory, and it can weaken the immune system, leading to more frequent illness. Stress also has the power to influence behavior. Members who are stressed may exercise less or make unhealthier food choices, which can exacerbate existing health conditions.
All these health effects translate into costs — not just for members but for their employers and the union, too. Benefits Pro reports that work-related stress can lead to absenteeism on the order of anywhere from a few days a month to upward of four weeks. An estimated $500 billion is lost each year due to stress-related dips in productivity.
As a union leader, you may not have day-to-day contact with union members, but you can still support them. Here are four strategies to help your members manage their stress.
1. Providing Easy Access to Mental Health Counseling
For members who are overwhelmed, talking about their feelings with a therapist can be a great way to channel those emotions in a productive way. Fitting therapy appointments into an already overbooked schedule, however, can be an added stressor, ultimately making the problem worse.
Unions can help by providing convenient access to mental health counseling via telemedicine. Members can sign up for a session when and where it's convenient for them — at home after work or even during a lunch break. Talk to your insurance company about what portals or apps they offer that allow patients to schedule video calls with physicians on a laptop or phone.
2. Helping With Child Care
In the United States, child care is one of working parents' biggest expenses — and that makes it a major source of stress. Many employers set up a flexible spending account that parents can use toward child care costs. However, any money in that account has to be used or forfeited, so it's important that trustees educate members on how to use the policy so that money doesn't go to waste.
Money aside, many parents also struggle with finding backup day care when their child is sick and can't attend for the day. Consider acting as a resource for parents with last-minute care needs by providing a reduced rate for child care at home with an online babysitting service or access to a backup child care center.
3. Offering Financial Wellness Tools
In a recent study, one quarter of U.S. workers said that money worries caused them health problems. Nearly half said they were distracted at work because of it, and 15 percent said their problems caused them to miss work altogether.
That's why benefits administrators and unions have started offering workers financial wellness tools, including financial wellness programs for debt management and budgeting, on-site seminars by financial planners and personalized sessions where workers — and their spouses — meet individually with financial advisers for 30- or 45-minute sessions.
4. Working With Employers to Ensure Work Site Safety
In one 2016 poll, 43 percent of respondents said they had health concerns about their workplace. Outdoor and construction workers were the second-highest group to say stress in the workplace negatively impacted their health.
Having a healthy and safe work site can go a long way toward reducing the stress members feel at work. Make sure your members understand what safety equipment and protocols to expect on the job — and that they know how to escalate violations or concerns to the appropriate parties. Work with employers to confirm that member stress over safe working conditions is kept to a minimum, whether through additional trainings or increased safety audits.
Work will never be entirely stress-free, and your members know that. But mental health resources, child care, financial wellness and workplace safety offer meaningful opportunities for making life easier. By taking advantage of these opportunities, the union can not only address work-related stress but also champion the overall well-being of its members and their success at work.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.