Stress is a completely natural part of being a human. Our stress response evolved to create a series of physiological changes that enable us to react quickly in life-threatening situations.
Fortunately, most of us now face a very low risk of being eaten by a lion or leopard during our day to day lives. We do, however, still come across situations that trigger a stress response. Some can be major, like the loss of a loved one or a car accident; some are less major, like a work deadline or a delayed commuter train.
This is a generally accepted part of modern life and sometimes a stress response is appropriate and can help push through an intense situation. But there can also be points where the stress goes from being a motivator to being more than an individual can cope with. Typically this occurs if an individual's stress response is triggered repeatedly and can lead to the negative feelings commonly associated with stress.
What is the impact of stress?
The impact of stress on an individual will be the sum of all of the stressors in their life. It’s not a case of compartmentalising the sources of stress so work stress is only felt at work and all other life stresses become a factor once they leave the workplace.
Recognising that the impact of stress will be a total of all stressors can help us identify how we can help reduce the potential negative impact of being overstressed. As HR professionals we can identify the most common sources of stress and provide benefits that can help employees manage those elements of their life.
In Salary Finance’s financial wellbeing research, we asked over 10,000 employees whether or not they were happy or had worries in the following areas of their life: relationships (outside of work), health, career and finances.
We found that finance were the largest causes of stress, irrespective of age and gender.
Stress and mental health
Our research also explored the relationship between mental health and other factors. We asked the extent to which people strongly disagreed to strongly agreed with the following statements:
I feel anxious and am prone to panic attacks
I feel depressed and find it difficult to carry on with life
We compared differences between ages, earnings and level of financial worries. The greatest difference was between those that were stressed about their finances and those that do not.
Those with financial stress were:
3.8 times more likely to feel anxious and be prone to panic attacks
4.9 times more likely to be depressed and find it difficult to carry on with life
These differences were startling and make a compelling case for the relationship between mental health and financial wellbeing.
How HR teams can help
The Mental Health Foundation offers the following definition of stress: it is “the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.” The important word there is “unmanageable”, and this is where HR teams can deliver initiatives that help take the stress out of employees’ financial lives.
By offering employee benefits that allow people to take control of something that currently feels unmanageable by making active changes (e.g. pay off debt, start saving, access earned pay), supported by financial education, you can begin to mitigate the negative impact financial stress can have on overall wellbeing.
In this way financial wellbeing can become a core pillar in any efforts you have in place to improve mental wellbeing in your organisation.