Every person experiences stress at one time or another. Hearing a co-worker or family member say they are stressed has become so common that most of us probably fail to give it a second thought. But stress is not to be ignored, according to Kelly Hagan, AssuredPartners regional vice president of operations.
“We should not take being stressed lightly,” Hagan says. “There are plenty of ways to reduce the stresses in your life.”
When looking at ways to reduce stress it is imperative to start by pinpointing what brought on the stressful situation. There are no shortages of emotional and physical situations that can trigger stress.
The most common causes of stress, according to Hagan, revolve around major changes in one’s life including divorce, relocation, new or loss of employment, financial and relationship problems, and an illness or death in the family. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season and the family gatherings that come with it as well as busy times at work can also create stress.
“In our line of work, for example, the fourth quarter and the beginning of the new [first] quarter are the most stressful because we are dealing with a large number of renewals,” she explains.
While there are plenty of reasons one can become stressed, the good news is that there are also plenty of ways to relieve stress.
The “buddy system” is the method to try first according to Hagan.
“Find someone you can talk to — someone who can empathize with you,” she says. “It’s so important to have a sounding board. When people ask me what is the best way to eliminate their stress I always tell them to find a friend and talk to them. Talking things through is so important.”
For Mallory Deeter, AssuredPartners program director for college engagement, the main way she relieves stress is through a book club she created with some of her friends. After Deeter graduated college, many of her close friends moved away to other cities to begin their professional careers, so the group decided to form a book club and meet monthly via video chat.
“We catch up on each other’s lives and discuss the selected book,” Deeter says of the meetings. “Each participant takes a turn to choose a book. We’ve read everything from leadership development books, historical fiction, satire and poetry. Not only is it a great way to keep in touch with old friends, it also gives me an excuse to read a book and take some time from thinking about all the other daily challenges.
“I love to read, and having a dedicated time each month to connect with friends and discuss a book really leaves me refreshed for the week ahead. I have been able to share stress about work, life, family and friends in a safe environment and know that I have the support of a great network of friends.”
Deeter has also found success dealing with stress by using the “buddy system.”
“Whenever I get super stressed out at work, I always take a second and call one of my best friends,” she adds. "Having someone to vent to who is not connected to my work world allows me to get everything off my chest, decompress, and also help me see things from a different perspective.”
If a friend isn’t immediately available to lend an ear, Hagan recommends getting up and doing some sort of physical activity.
Deeter is well aware that exercise can alleviate stress, but as she began working her activity level dropped and she said it was “very easy” to let bad habits return. Never a fan of running or the gym, Deeter has turned to an old childhood favorite — dancing — to reduce stress.
“As an adult, I was finding it hard to find an activity I enjoyed as much as dancing,” she explains. “I didn’t feel like my best self and was craving doing something that would get my body moving and feeling healthy again.
“Finally, I got out of my own way and looked for adult dance classes in my area. I have now been taking dance classes again for the past couple years and it has changed so much about my life. I look forward to working out and getting my body moving and I always feel better after knowing I left everything I had on the dance floor. Nothing ever seems as bad after a good work out.”
Any type of activity that brings your focus to something else is a good stress reliever, Hagan adds.
“That’s why so many people find that exercise reduces or eliminates stress,” she says.
Managing stress during Open Enrollment
The Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010 requires all applicable large employers to offer an annual open enrollment period.
As a broker we get to see Open Enrollment from multiple perspectives— the client, the service team, and as an employee. This makes us either an empathetic partner or creates multiple layers of stress.
Our clients: For employees of our clients, open enrollment — the set time when employees can make changes to their health insurance — can be rather stressful. Employees are being tasked with making decisions that will be in place for an entire year, and many have limited knowledge of insurance and their benefit plans, notes Kelly Hagan, AssuredPartners regional vice president of operations.
It is not just our clients’ employees who may feel stressed during open enrollment, employers and managers can be impacted as well. Open enrollment often involves meetings or seminars employees must attend during normal work time, and the unavailability of these workers can cut into their productivity levels. Understanding this impact of this and finding ways to help our clients and their employees mitigate this stress load is important.
Our AP Service Teams: Open Enrollment also creates a stressful environment for our service teams who are frequently out of the office meeting with employers and their employees. Managing workload during this busy time of year is paramount to success, according to Hagan.
The first recommendation was to have all employees “create a plan” detailing their tasks and responsibilities so when they are away the person handling their work will know exactly what is expected.
Another recommendation was to encourage employees to work ahead to account for any time missed due to open enrollment responsibilities.
“Any pre-work that can be completed is a big help and encouraged,” Hagan says. “Try to get things like your spreadsheets done ahead of time.”
Redeveloping and redefining responsibilities was Hagan’s third recommendation.
“One of the biggest causes of stress [during open enrollment] is wondering who is going to cover the day-to-day operations for a particular employee,” Hagan explains. “But if you already have a procedure in place for things like who is going to handle calls that can eliminate a lot of [an employer’s] concerns.”
Taking advantage of technology is another tactic to combat the stresses of open enrollment and being out of the office in general, she says.
“Can we use Skype, or can we do a video conference instead of getting on a plane for a meeting?” she asks. “There are a lot of new resources out there that can eliminate the need for travel. There are always going to be some meetings that need to be in-person, but for something like a Q&A session it can easily be done by video conference.”
Hagan says AssuredPartners has been conducting more meetings via video conference recently and will continue to use this method in the coming years. The company is also trying to make the open enrollment experience and meetings more enjoyable.
As an Employee: AssuredPartners, with more than 500 licensed agents and 6,018 employees, certainly qualifies as a large employer. In the midst of managing our clients’ open enrollments, we are asked to choose the benefits for ourselves and our families. AssuredPartners’ Open Enrollment period is held in October each year.
“For us, the fourth quarter is a particularly stressful period, so we try to distribute wellness information and meditation techniques to employees,” Hagan says. “Some of our meetings feature a healthy breakfast or healthy snacks and there are often giveaways as part of our open enrollment meetings.
“Stress is not something you want to take lightly.”