We're almost two weeks into the new year, and I'm still struggling to get into a good post-holiday groove.
I enjoyed some truly relaxing days at home during those abbreviated workweeks, and that has made the return to the daily grind much more difficult.
Adding to the challenge has been the extremely busy nature of these weeks as I work on year-end employee evaluations while also trying to figure out pay increases and bonuses for the 19 people on my team.
What's more, according to some new data, the problem of work stress seems to be growing around the world.
This fresh information comes from Workplace Options, an integrated employee support services and work-life provider. The company recently examined a set of data encompassing a "relatively stable population" of more than 100,000 employees across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America to look at trends in the use of its Employee Assistance Programs.
The data included all EAP inquiries made by these employees from 2012-14. I wish they had looked at part of 2015, too, but the depth and breadth of the information makes up for that slight loss of currency.
According to a press release about the data, Workplace Options found that the number of EAP cases dealing with personal emotional health issues stayed relatively constant over all three years, but instances of employee stress, anxiety and depression rose significantly during that time.
Specifically, the press release said, about 4 of every 10 EAP cases during the three-year period were related to personal emotional health issues. However, the number of cases dealing with employee depression increased by 58 percent between 2012 and 2014, while cases involving employee anxiety jumped 74 percent and those related to employee stress rose 28 percent.
Employee depression, stress and anxiety issues accounted for 82.6 percent of all emotional health cases in 2014, compared to 55.2 percent in 2012.
"Serious mental health issues can have a devastating effect on organizations around the world," said Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options, in the press release about the data. "What this analysis means for businesses around the world is that if your employees' emotional well-being wasn't already on the top of your list of priorities, it needs to be."
Any number of factors could be contributing to the rise in stress and anxiety, the press release said.
"The red flag here for the business community is the nature of the calls and inquiries that we are getting from across the world," Debnam said in the release. "While the percentage of cases dealing with personal emotional health issues is relatively unchanged, the issues we're dealing with have become much more severe over the past three years.
"This can mean a couple of different things. More and more employees across the world are obviously struggling with very serious emotional health issues, but the silver lining is that among those struggling, more and more appear to be willing to reach out for help."
Fortunately, I haven't been in a situation that led me to take advantage of an employer's EAP. I know people who have done so, and they've mostly been happy with the service they received.
But I draw a different conclusion from this data, as well. I'm sure it's predictable, coming from me, but I would argue that employee well-being is at least partly a result of work-life balance.
When I think about the things I do to relieve my work-related stress and anxiety, they are many of the same activities I undertake to build a more balanced life.
For example, ignoring my mobile devices while I'm home with my family during the evening effectively reduces my stress and helps my feelings of balance. (I don't always do an excellent job of this, but I keep trying.)
Companies that are concerned about employee well-being should take note of that and establish a culture that doesn't include the expectation of after-hours communication.
I've found that a quick break from work that includes a walk around the block also eases my anxiety and helps balance my work-life equation. Again, businesses could encourage this kind of activity and reap the benefits of less stressed, more productive employees at minimal cost.
My employer took this idea to heart late last year when it sponsored a "Race to the North Pole" contest. Any employees who wanted to participate were split into four teams, and then we kept track of our steps with pedometers. The first team that walked enough steps to reach the North Pole from Salt Lake City won.
Even though my team came in last — not surprising, perhaps, since we were known as the "Walking Dead" — we all enjoyed the team-building activity. And I noticed that many people took walks as part of their afternoon breaks, even though the weather was turning chilly.2 comments on this story
These are just a couple of examples of what companies can do to focus on both employee well-being and work-life balance. I'm sure there are plenty of other actions that could cut worker stress at little or no cost to a business.
What do you think of this information? Are you surprised at the increase in worker stress and anxiety shown by the Workplace Options data? Have you felt that increase in your life? How have you dealt with it? Has your company or manager helped?
If you have any ideas about this, please send me an email or leave a comment online. I'll share some of your responses when I revisit this issue in a future column.