Although the Internet, pagers and cell phones have kept business running at the speed of technology, business owners are discovering they arent necessarily winning the race. A global economy and an active stock market have created favorable conditions, but a stressed-out workforce is costing American businesses big dollars.
Stress-related problems in the workplace are estimated to cost American business close to $300 billion annually as assessed by diminished productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover, increased legal and medical costs, workers compensation, etc., says Dr. Paul Rosch, M.D., president of the American Institute of Stress and clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College. Put into perspective, thats 10 times more than the net profits of all the 100 top Fortune companies in the country.
According to Rosch, the problem is quite pervasive. American Institute of Stress surveys indicate that 75 percent of Americans consider their jobs very stressful or extremely stressful, and the majority say the stress has increased dramatically in the last decade.
Fortunately, the business community as a whole is beginning to take notice. Faced with increased workers compensation claims for stress-related ailments, as well as recent scientific evidence that stress actually does aggravate or contribute to everything from the common cold to cancer, Rosch says businesses are implementing widespread stress programs for their employees. The problem is, the Institutes reviews showed that very few of the programs were worthwhile, first because they lacked benchmarks to measure their efficacy, but also because no one stress reducer works for every employee.
Rosch advises business owners to conduct a stress audit, which would identify problem areas in the company and designate both individual and company-wide methods to relieve or prevent stress.
The only nearly universal solution is exercise, according to David Alexander, spokesperson for the National Safety Council in Itasca, Ill., a nonprofit organization working to reduce injuries and promote health on the job. Humans have a flight or fight impulse that creates pent-up energy when were under stress, he says.
If youre someone whos on the phone calling people for a job, you dont have any type of physical outlet, yet your body is releasing these chemicals that increase your heart rate and give you the tools to expend physical energy, Alexander says.
Business owners can help their employees, Alexander says, by providing a game room for a quick breaks, as well as allowing time for walks. Other than that, Alexander and Rosch say its best to help employees find their own stress- relieving solutions.
Just as stress is different for each of us, there is no technique thats a panacea, Rosch says. Jogging is great for some people, and meditation works fine for others, but when arbitrarily imposed on certain individuals, they prove stressful. You have to find what works for you.