Al’s son once complained to Al’s Aunt Tillie about an overbearing supervisor. Aunt Tillie suggested that he try to work under a different supervisor. Tillie was one of those people – and we all know them – who could be counted on to inadvertently provide punchlines when needed. Conversely, Al is one of those people – and we all know them – who can’t resist setting up those punchlines. So I lamented that this suggestion may not work because, “Aunt Tillie, it’s a sobering fact that 50% of all supervisors are below average.”
Tillie replied, “I blame our educational system for that.”
Likewise, we may need to blame our educational system for Keas’ new poll on workplace stress. To begin with, the lead paragraph from Keas — which like many other companies is “the market leader” in wellness – “reveals” that “4 in 10 employees experience above-average stress.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – (Apr 2, 2014) – Keas (www.keas.com), the market leader in employer health and engagement programs, today released new survey data, revealing four in ten employees experience above average levels of job-related stress. Keas is bringing attention to these findings to kick off Stress Awareness Month, and is also providing additional insight and tips to bring greater awareness to the role of stress in the workplace and its impact on employee health.
Wouldn’t that mean some other employees – mathematically, also 6 in 10 – must be experiencing average or below-average levels of stress? It would seem like mathematically that would have to be the case. However, the Keas poll also “reveals” that while some employees are average in stress, no employee is below-average – a true paradox. Hence Keas’ selfless reasons for publishing this poll: All employees being either average or above average in the stress department means we have a major stress epidemic on our hands. This perhaps explains why Keas is “bringing attention to these findings.”
In a further paradox, Keas also uses the words “average” and “normal” as synonyms, even though they are often antonyms: All of us want our children to be normal but who amongst us wants their children to be average?
But Wait…There’s More
There appears to be a dramatic difference in stress according to gender:
The weight of stress on women – More than 7 in 10 women (72%) experience above average levels of stress, compared to 28% of men”
This 40% translates into “72% of women and 28% of men.” Speaking of blaming our educational system, if you didn’t notice that 72% and 28% average to 50% rather than 40%, then at your next elementary school reunion, you should give your fifth-grade teacher what-for. (And, yes, women do represent almost 50% of the workforce.)
What is the effect of all this stress?
High stress levels can cause, or worsen, a myriad of health issues for employees including heart disease obesity, cardiovascular issues, depression and diabetes (among others)
After revealing that women are almost three times as stressed as men, Keas goes on to list what it calls “the impact on employee health,” the five diseases that stress can “cause or worsen” — four of which, despite Keas’ claims of women’s stress and disease causality, are considerably more prevalent in men. Yet again, in the immortal words of those great philosophers Gilbert & Sullivan, a most ingenious paradox.
So Educate Us: What Does Keas Propose Doing About This?
There’s a good chance your employees are unhealthy. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about – employers at large companies are paying 36 percent more for health care than they were five years ago- but it is something that can be fixed.
Well, the good news is: (1) unlike, for example, a spot on your tie, unhealthy employees are “nothing to be embarrassed about”; and (2) this is something that can be “fixed.” How? Glad you asked. Coincidentally, Keas offers a solution — stress management. But how will they know stress management works? Perhaps when they achieve a Lake Wobegon society in which everyone’s stress, instead of being average or above average as the Keas poll reports now, is below average.
The stress management solution they propose is simple. To reach this elusive goal of everybody having less stress than average, you need only “actively promote health.”
If you do actively promote health – perhaps by sending a memo around saying that you are actively promoting health –your employees will become “three times more productive.” Doing the math, this means you can lay off three-quarters of your employees without sacrificing performance. The remaining employees will answer the phones three times faster, bag three times as many groceries, perform triple bypasses three times faster, fly planes 1500 miles per hour, and so on.
As an employer, you might question Keas’ logic and wonder whether a mass layoff could, paradoxically, make your remaining employees more stressed, thus creating a new epidemic all over again. In that case, simply repeat all the steps in this posting, starting with fifth grade.
We’d love to end right there for dramatic effect, but at the risk of ruining a joke by explaining the punchline, we need to formalize this discussion by explaining why it is time for the wellness industry to shut up. For 18 months we have been posting example after example of vendor outcomes — and now polls — proving the observation in Surviving Workplace Wellness that “in wellness you don’t have to challenge the data to invalidate it. You simply have to read the data. It will invalidate itself.”
It’s not just that companies are wasting their money, cutting real benefits in order to pay for these programs. These programs distract employers from the major healthcare issues they should be focused on. Keas-style wellness sends corporate leaders on a fiscal wild goose chase, trying to save money on things that don’t cost them much money in the first place. (Even as Keas says costs were increasing 36% over five years due to unhealthy employees, wellness-sensitive medical events were declining, and now represent only about 7% of corporate spending.)
Corporate leaders can lower their own stress levels, which will notably lower the stress levels of employees, by concentrating their energy on addressing the medical errors, overtreatment, and ineffective management of the small number of employees with complex conditions that cost them far more money than employees not eating enough broccoli.
Al Lewis is the author of Why Nobody Believes the Numbers, co-author of Cracking Health Costs: How to Cut Your Company’s Health Costs and Provide Employees Better Care, and president of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium
Vik Khanna is a St. Louis-based independent health consultant with extensive experience in managed care and wellness. He is Wellness Editor-At-Large for THCB and author of the forthcoming Your Personal Affordable Care Act: Making Yourself Scarce in the Dysfunctional US Healthcare System. Vik and Al are co-authors of Surviving Workplace Wellness, THCB’s first e-book.