Don’t stress!

If it’s true that stress is a part of everyone’s
life, then it would figure that dealing with
stress would be part of everyone’s life, too.
Stress is often work-related, but it is not restricted to the workplace. However, even
when the causes of stress are not work-related, the impact of stress can show up on the
job. That is why stress management has to be
addressed by business owners.

“Statistics show that health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for
employees who report high levels of stress,”
says Rose Gantner, Ed.D., NCC, senior director of health promotion at UPMC Health
. “And workers who need to take stress-related absences from work tend to average
20 or more days away from work.”

Smart Business talked with Gantner about
the importance and benefit of stress management programs in the workplace.

Why should business owners be interested in
or concerned with employee stress?

One reason may be that employers are
realizing that policies that benefit employee
health can also benefit the bottom line.
Some studies cite that stress-related illnesses are accountable for 60 percent of all
absences from work. Absenteeism and an
increasing number of workers who quit their
jobs obviously impact the bottom line. Stress
may also have hidden costs, such as increases in workers’ compensation claims, an
increase in employee errors and a decrease
in customer service.

Today, many employers are taking steps to
reduce workplace stress. There is evidence
that 50 percent of all large companies provide some sort of stress management training
for their work force. Frequently, smaller companies employ the services of employee
assistance programs (EAPs) to educate
employees about stress management. The
World Health Organization has predicted that
by 2020, stress will be the major cause of
workplace illness.

Can stress management programs be effective in reducing stress?

There is evidence that such programs can
work. If implemented correctly, stress management programs can teach employees about the nature and sources of stress and
the differences between situational stress,
acute stress and chronic stress. The effects of
stress on health can be demonstrated, and
the personal skills needed to reduce stress
can be taught. These include coping skills,
such as positive thoughts, time management
and relaxation exercises. It has been shown
that medical costs can potentially be averted
through behavior change.

What can employers do to reduce workplace

The National Institute of Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified organizational characteristics associated with both
healthy, low-stress work and high levels of
productivity. These characteristics include
recognition of employees for good work performance, opportunities for career development, an organizational culture that values
the individual worker and management
actions that are consistent with organizational values.

Stress levels will be lower when the workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and
resources. Workers feel less stress when
their jobs enable them to utilize their skills.

Clearly defining workers’ roles and responsibilities is as important as giving workers the
opportunity to participate in decisions and
actions that affect their jobs.

Is all stress a bad thing?

No. There are instances in which some
stress or pressure at work can serve to stimulate employees and help them achieve
goals they may not have otherwise achieved.
But for an employee to succeed in pressure
situations, that employee has to be able to
cope with the stress. Otherwise, it can be

How are wellness programs effective in
reducing stress in the workplace?

Wellness programs are built on the premise
that unhealthy lifestyles — such as those that
increase stress or keep someone from dealing effectively with stress — contribute to rising costs in the workplace. Those costs can
drop when employees can be encouraged to
pursue healthy lifestyles. Wellness programs
are designed to treat medical conditions
before they occur. They are designed to be
preventive. But, to be truly effective at reducing workplace stress, a business needs both
an organizational commitment to the concept and stress management programs in the

How can employees prevent their own

Certain psychological techniques have
been shown to reduce stress. For example,
visual imagery or imagining peaceful places
can help some people calm down. Others
may prefer to use the memory cue S-P-T-A, a
reminder to stop, pause, think and then act,
rather than simply react to a situation.

There are also life changes you can make to
help reduce stress, including eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, getting
enough sleep, managing your time, staying
organized, developing a support system of
family, friends and colleagues, and giving
yourself time to unwind and regroup.

ROSE GANTNER, Ed.D., NCC, is the senior director of health promotion at UPMC Health Plan. Reach her at [email protected] or
(412) 454-8571.