Mayo Clinic Study Suggests One Simple Question Regarding Stress Could Help Employers Tailor Wellness Programs and Improve Participation

ROCHESTER, Minn. — One simple question asking employees to rate their current stress level may help identify individuals who could benefit from wellness programs to reduce stress and improve resiliency and overall health, according to a Mayo Clinic study published in the September/October issue of The American Journal of Health Promotion. The implications of the study, one of the largest of its kind, are significant for businesses and other organizations that offer wellness programs for employees or members.

    VIDEO ALERT: Additional audio and video resources, including excerpts from an interview with Dr. Matthew Clark describing the research, are available on the Mayo Clinic News Blog. Additional video can be found on the Mayo Clinic YouTube site.

The study’s lead researcher Matthew Clark, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic, will present his team’s findings at a free webinar as part of the American Journal of Health Promotion Authors’ Series, on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 12:00 noon Central / 1:00 p.m. Eastern. To register, click here.

Many organizations offer wellness programs for employees or members. The programs can cut health care costs and boost productivity. However, many people drop out or decline to enroll.

“Wellness programs and centers typically initially focus on physical fitness and weight loss,” Dr. Clark says. “Perhaps by addressing other domains of wellness — stress management, work-life balance, spirituality and resilience — employees might gain the confidence and skills to truly achieve better overall wellness.”

Mayo Clinic researchers surveyed 13,198 employees who joined a Mayo Clinic employee wellness center when it opened in 2008. Employees rated their stress levels on a scale of 0 (as bad as it can be) to 10 (as good as it can be) and answered questions about quality of life, fatigue, exercise, diet, smoking and health problems.

High stress levels (0 to 3) were reported by 2,147 employees. When compared to other employees, high-stress employees reported a lower quality of life, poorer health, less support, and more fatigue. They also were more likely to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol, and to be overweight. The high-stress group had less confidence than their non-stressed peers in their ability to make changes to improve their overall health.

The study showed the biggest differences between stressed and non-stressed respondents were in fatigue levels after a regular night’s sleep and in current quality of life.

So, instead of expecting tired, stressed participants to run off pounds on the treadmill, Dr. Clark suggests organizations could offer them yoga, tai chi, meditation, stress management classes or sessions with a personal wellness coach that would help them reach overall wellness goals.

“There is no one best approach to manage stress. We are all unique,” Dr. Clark says. “But by bolstering resiliency, employees may be able to successfully make lifestyle changes and achieve wellness.”

The Mayo Clinic study did not examine any correlations between work performance and stress levels. Dr. Clark cautions about making any assumptions on who might be experiencing stress that’s “as bad as it can be.”

“Stellar employees can be stressed about meeting exceedingly high personal expectations,” he says. They may be top performers, but their quality of life is diminished. “Surveys have shown that stress is a common workplace problem,” says Dr. Clark. “Our research acknowledges that stress affects many aspects of health, and it’s possible to easily identify who might benefit from resiliency training.”

The study was co-authored by Beth Warren, Philip Hagen, M.D., Bruce Johnson, Ph.D, Sarah Jenkins, M.S., Brooke Werneburg, M.S., and Kerry Olsen, M.D.


About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education for people from all walks of life.

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