Stress may be the top lifestyle risk factor in the Middle East

Employers in the region consider stress to be the top lifestyle risk factor of the Middle Eastern workforce. Other risk factors highlighted were lack of physical activity, tobacco use, obesity and unhealthy eating habits, according to the latest health benefits survey by Towers Watson, a leading global professional services company.

Mr Steve Clements, Director of Health and Group Benefits at Towers Watson, said: “The problems associated with most of these risk factors are well documented, but stress is potentially a hidden issue of the region.”

He said: “Until now, stress has not been widely acknowledged as a serious issue for employers. This may be partly because employees are reluctant to formally report feeling under pressure, and also partly because stress is rarely in itself categorised as a cause of medical claims. However, some of the most prevalent claims, such as cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions, can be caused by, or exacerbated by, stress.”

The top factors causing stress in the workplace were considered to be the erosion of work/life balance, especially with technologies that require employees to be available after working hours, together with unclear or conflicting job expectations and inadequate staffing.

The study confirms that many employers are now starting to embrace a robust healthcare and wellbeing strategy. The emergence of stress as a serious health risk factor further reinforces that a holistic approach is needed that goes beyond targeting physical conditions to embrace broader wellbeing issues, Mr Clements added.

Medical insurance law

Employers in the region are investing more in the health of their employees as many Gulf Co-operation Council countries have implemented legislation that deals with mandates for employee healthcare coverage. These changes are already in effect or will come into effect in phases over the next few years and will implicitly impact employers.

However, the study revealed that a substantial proportion of employers still do not fully understand the details of the requirements to comply with the law, and nearly half (49%) of the respondents do not know how much healthcare costs represent as a share of total employee costs.

Mr Clements said: “It was concerning to learn that more than a third (37%) of employers in the UAE stated they did not fully understand the requirements of the new legislation, with the figure rising to 44% and 52% in Saudi Arabia and Qatar respectively.”

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