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The multi-billion dollar hidden health care cost

I’m going to keep this short because I’m double booked and have to hop on a conference call en route to that client meeting I’ve been prepping for all week, before I finish my weekly report and pickup my kids at soccer practice.

Sound familiar?

For a lot of us, that’s just a routine day in the office.  30-minute meetings squeezed into 15-minute windows, punctuated by rapid-fire email responses, text messages and probably a few impromptu strategy sessions in the hallway.  (For the tech savvy, add Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and your favorite freemium game app to this list).  That’s a full day!

But – hey – we’re doing a lot, right? Right… ?

I’ve yet to find a management book that says it’s better to be busy than productive, but that seems to be how many of us live out our work weeks. It can feel like we’re always running late or struggling to simply keep up with expectations. In short, we’re stressed!

The cost of workplace stress is difficult to quantify. Stress heeds no borders between our professional and personal lives, and sometimes even the source of it can be a mystery.  That said, we are ill-advised to ignore stress.  Many kinds of stress are self-induced, and in these cases it’s in our best interest to remediate the causes.  A good place to start is the workplace.

As reported on,  a study by Harvard and Stanford business professors found that workplace stress results in “…additional expenditures of anywhere from $125 to $190 billion dollars a year – representing 5 to 8 percent of national spending on health care.” Even if you quibble with the professors’ methodology and measurements, we should all be able to agree that when it comes to workplace stress we’re talking about serious dollars and cents.

As business leaders, we need to acknowledge that stress is a byproduct of our corporate culture.  While we cannot eliminate stress, we can choose to change how we do business to improve the short- and long-term health of both our employees and our bottom lines.

To get all of us started, here are four stress-reducing ideas for common workplace woes:

  • Get control of your calendar: Stop accepting multiple meeting requests and stop scheduling meetings unless you can articulate a predefined purpose for intruding on others’ time. Productivity experts say doing this will force you to truly prioritize what matters. Then, commit yourself to being a full participant in the meetings you do accept. You’ll likely find you can get a lot more done than when you were “present” in three places at once.
  • (Re)establish email expectations: The constant pinging of a smartphone can make it difficult to ever fully unplug and recharge the mind. If your workplace suffers from emails-at-all-hours-itis, think about instituting some rules. Perhaps you could try to implement a ‘no non-urgent emails after 8 p.m.,’ or an ‘email-free Sundays’ policy. Knowing when a response is not expected can be a real stress reducer and help people get more out of their limited personal and family time.
  • Break out of the office: Stress and boredom sometimes go hand in hand. So, before your next meeting, ask yourself, “Do we really need a physical conference room for this?” If the answer is no, think about making that meeting a walking meeting. You’ll be amazed at how much better your team’s brainstorming and troubleshooting can be with a little bit of fresh air – your physical health will benefit too.
  • Reduce uncertainty: Whether the threat is real or merely perceived, we all have job insecurity stress throughout our careers. This cannot ever be fully eliminated, and no doubt that for many individuals it inspires them to work hard. However, what can be changed is job stress and insecurity resulting from a lack of direction. Setting clear goals for your team will not only make you a better manager, but will also help your team.  If you say “here are the three things we need to do to be successful in April,” your staff can more easily brush off the small stuff.  Without clear goals and expectations, everything starts to look like a crisis – particularly when you feel like your job is on the line.

I hope some of these ideas hit home for you. (If not, don’t stress about it). Remember, what works for your company may not be directly transferable to your neighbor’s company. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things — after all, trying something will likely cost you less than doing nothing.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield was proud to be the presenting sponsor of BizTimes Milwaukee’s Workplace Wellness Summit on Friday, March 18. Click here to learn more and read coverage of the event.

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Nobile is a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry whose experience includes time with Rush Prudential Health Plans, Aetna, and United Healthcare. Prior to joining Anthem, Nobile served as the Director of Sales and Account Management for the Midwest region at UniCare, a health benefits company based in Chicago and owned by Anthem’s parent company and also ran UniCare’s Eastern Region with offices.

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