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February 23rd, 2009
01:59 PM ET

Promoting good health with transparency

By David S. Martin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

It’s hard to turn on the television, pick up the newspaper or go online without reading about massive layoffs at a U.S. company: GM, Caterpillar, Bank of America. That has a lot of workers wondering if they’re next, and that’s stressful.

Lincoln Industries in Lincoln, Nebraska, is trying to keep that anxiety down with something that sounds simple - openness. The reasoning: uncertainty breeds stress. We’ve reported previously on the company’s ambitious wellness program. The company gives workers quarterly checkups, monitoring their blood pressure, body weight and flexibility; offers discounts at local gyms, rewarding workers when they reach fitness goals; and lets employees take paid time away from work to enroll in smoking cessation classes. Now, the company is tackling anxiety during the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, trying to calm employees’ fears before they build.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” says Marc LeBaron, Chairman and CEO of the privately-held company, which polishes and plates chrome parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and does other metal fabricating and finishing. “Uncertainty always creates more anxiety.” LeBaron says the company’s management communicates information about the business to employees through newsletters, company-wide e-mails, roundtable meetings and an open-door policy. And when he walks across the plant, LeBaron says he’s often quizzed about how the economic news of the day will affect Lincoln Industries.

“We’re very transparent,” LeBaron said. “If there’s bad news, let’s get it out there on the table.” When Harley Davidson cut back on its orders recently, a company-wide e-mail informed employees right away.

Openness is the right corporate prescription for holding down worker stress in uncertain times, says Dr. David Ballard, who manages the Psychologically Healthy Workplace program at the American Psychological Association. “Transparency is really the key," he says. Allowing employee stress and anxiety to rise can hurt a company’s morale and productivity, he adds.

In addition to a corporate culture promoting communication up and down the chain of command, Ballard says companies should also offer wellness programs that help employees identify and manage stress more effectively, and health plans that include mental health services.

With the economic downturn, Lincoln Industries has allowed its workforce to decrease through attrition and eliminated most temporary workers, shrinking its workforce from 560 to 480. The 56-year-old company has never laid off a worker.

What, if anything, has your company done to reduce (or increase) your stress and anxiety in this economic slump?

Editor's Note:  Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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