By Curt Hensley
Working in the merchant services industry can be stressful. I know, you must be thinking I just made the understatement of the year. Just for fun, I did a job search for merchant level salesperson (MLS) positions around the country. In no time, I read three that actually listed "must be able to work in a stressful environment" as one of the job's requisite skills.
I've reviewed recent studies advising that stress and level of mental health can seriously affect productivity in the workplace and sharply impact retention. If you've read this column in previous months, you've seen articles that deal with different areas of retention.
What I haven't focused on before is stress and overall mental health conditions in our places of work. According to a report by Meritain Health and the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, companies are starting to make the connection between untreated mental health conditions and lost productivity. Many of these organizations are offering more comprehensive mental health benefits and promoting the benefits to their employees.
Another report by Watson Wyatt Worldwide states that workers rank stress as the top reason they would leave their companies, followed by base pay, new opportunities and work/life balance. This is contradictory to several other reports in past years in which the rankings were very different.
The fuel crunch that has caused gas prices to soar is one of the reasons stress and base pay are moving up the list. Good MLSs who spend a great deal of time on the road are certainly feeling the crunch. Unless their companies have doubled their mileage allowances (something independent agents rarely have anyway), the gas crisis is really eating into their earnings and possibly hurting their mental health.
Interestingly enough, in the same Watson Wyatt survey, employers do not consider stress to be a top concern to workers. Employers named insufficient pay, lack of career development and promotion opportunities as their top three employee issues. This reveals a general lack of understanding.
Watson Wyatt also did a Global Strategic Rewards study for 2007/2008. This study found that when employees are satisfied with stress levels and work/life balance, 86 percent are more inclined to stay with their companies (versus 64 percent when dissatisfied); 88 percent are more likely to recommend their employers as a place to work (versus 55 percent when dissatisfied).
Need further proof? In a recent Meritain mental health study, 94 percent of respondents reported that stress levels affect job performance, and they think their employers do not place enough emphasis on mental health.
In this national survey of full-time workers who have medical benefits, 52 percent said their employers do not address employee stress, work/life balance or mental health. Moreover, 40 percent weren't even aware of mental or behavioral health benefits offered by their employers, and 35.7 percent reported they would be more likely to use such benefits if employers did a better job of promoting them.
Additionally, the survey found stress affects key aspects of employees' lives in the following proportions:
"As employers continue to become more knowledgeable about wellness, it's crucial that they consider not only the prevalence and cost of mental illness, but also the availability of effective treatments," said Clare Miller, a Director of Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a joint program between the American Psychiatric Association and numerous employers.
Overall, studies indicate the majority of working Americans have positive regard for employers offering programs that encourage workers to adopt healthier lifestyles. Recently, a Health Confidence Survey was done by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute. According to this study, eight in 10 U.S. workers are strongly or somewhat positive about these types of programs. Only two in 10 feel somewhat or strongly negative about these programs.
The nation's workforce tends to agree that wellness programs can help. The study showed that more than eight in 10 strongly or somewhat agree that wellness programs can help other people or themselves develop healthier lifestyles.
Although many employees agree wellness programs can help people develop healthier lifestyles, employers' motivations seem to matter, as well. Overall, 76 percent agree companies that offer wellness programs are showing concern for their workers.
However, within that group, 65 percent think companies offering wellness programs are only concerned about their bottom lines; 45 percent think these employers are intruding on worker privacy. I didn't do this survey, but I would think employers that show true concern and compassion for their employees in other areas are going to be viewed in the right light when it comes to their offer of a wellness program.
Consider interviewing candidates not only for their IQ but also for their EQ. Confused? According to a new study, emotional quotient (EQ) is superior to intelligence in many ways. The main one is that stressed-out workers' emotions can create potential roadblocks for career advancement and success, not to mention loss of production.
According to a recent national survey of working Americans ages 18 and older done by Multi-Health Systems, 55 percent of respondents reported a lack of familiarity with emotional intelligence and its impact on their professional success. Emotional intelligence is much more than a catchphrase or buzzword to smart employers who know how to ensure hiring the right people.
Another finding from this study: 80 percent of respondents experience stress in the workplace as a result of work or personal issues. But 48 percent are not familiar with the negative effect stress has on emotional intelligence.
This research shows that emotional intelligence involves a range of factors that permit a person to evaluate and cope with his or her environment and emotional well-being, including elements such as independence, problem solving, flexibility, mood and self-awareness, among others.
How can your organization begin to de-stress this mess? Dr. Steven Stein, President and Chief Executive Officer of Multi-Health, suggests that emotional intelligence training could be an effective means of reducing stress. "Emotional intelligence can suffer when stress takes a toll, preventing workers from controlling their emotions, collaborating with others, adapting to change, and maintaining a positive mood," Stein said.
The Multi-Health study also revealed that 32 percent of workers think stress prevented them from being recognized for their contributions at work, and 27 percent said stress prevented them from advancing in their career.
In addition, 53 percent of workers in the study said stress reduces their productivity in the workplace; 53 percent said stress hurts their relationships with co-workers; 47 percent said stress inhibits their workplace decision-making.
Whether it's implementing a wellness program or doing emotional intelligence coaching, companies in the payments industry that show this type of forward thinking will certainly increase employee retention. Why? Because their employees know they truly care.
Curt Hensley is the founder, Chief Executive Officer and President of CSH Consulting, a recruiting firm exclusively focused on the payments industry. He and his leadership team have over 50 years of combined experience recruiting in the merchant acquiring arena. They recently placed their 1,200th payments industry professional since their inception eight years ago. Contact him at 480-315-8800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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