The cost of stress can be a financial burden that is often overlooked in the workplace when trying to find ways to cut costs. Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Health Systems, suggests executives find ways to manage employees’ stress to reduce financial strain.
Smart Business spoke with Stephens about the cost of stress and ways for executives to help employees cope.
How does stress affect productivity in the workplace?
The economic consequences of stress in the workplace are alarming. Annually, stress costs U.S. employers $300 billion total, or $2,097 per employee. This cost is a result of medical claims, increased turnover, absenteeism, worker’s compensation, poor performance and lack of engagement.
Surprisingly, stress is not always a bad thing. It can stimulate creativity and productivity. No one reaches peak performance without some type of stress. Almost 8 percent of all annual claims costs are directly related to stress according to a study prepared by the Health Enhancement Research Organization reported 1998.
What stressors should employers be aware of in the workplace?
The level of occupational stress is determined by three dimensions: life situations, work and self. The balance between the causes of stress and available support systems determines one’s ability to cope effectively with stress.
Sources of stress vary. For factory workers, stress often is related directly to the work situation such as the equipment or environment. Office workers, on the other hand, are more likely to experience stress related to inter-personal relationships on the job.
Workload is the greatest reported cause of stress. Employees work today the equivalent of a 13-month year. Downsizing often means increased workloads.
How can executives reduce stress in the workplace?
Stress management can be one of the most cost effective strategies that employers can take. Executives must recognize that work is not the only source of employee stress and introducing programs and benefits that support employees in finding more work-life balance will create a win-win for all parties involved.
Support systems that can offset the stress include:
- Work-life programs. Flexibility, telecommuting, child and adult care services and job sharing help employees find a balance.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) can help employees cope with a variety of emotional needs including, marriage, financial, etc.
- Wellness programs can provide a 24-hour support system that improves employee health and well-being.
- Improving the food selections in the cafeteria and vending machines.
- Offering occupational stress workshops sends a message to employees that the employer is concerned about their well-being.
- Increasing skill-based training includes the use of career ladders to reward skill development, use of job rotation to expand skills and use of job redesign to increase range of skills needed.
- Improving physical working conditions by improving indoor air quality and reducing levels of physical hazards such as noise, toxins and chemicals.
How can a person’s stress affect others, and how can individuals cope?
An important way to combat stress is to improve one’s communication skills by learning how to speak about your own needs and wants and how to give positive and negative feedback to others. This is known as assertiveness. Practicing relaxation techniques can improve an individual’s ability to effectively manage stress. Taking a break, talking with colleagues, going to the bathroom or water cooler or doing breathing exercises help restore balance on the job. One should refrain from creating stress for others by venting about workplace stresses without offering practical suggestions for solutions.
Probably the most damaging manifestation of severe stress is through aggression or work violence. Passive forms of aggression, such as withholding resources, not responding to phone calls and being late to meetings may be benign but, when constant, can result in great psychological harm and loss of personal or organizational productivity.
How can executives develop schedules that reduce stress?
A number of studies have associated poorer physical and psychological functioning with rotating shifts. On the other hand, more flexible work schedules have the potential of improving employee satisfaction and reducing stress. One of the most popular strategies today is using flextime and other alternative work week schedules.
SALLY STEPHENS is a founder, owner and president of Spectrum Health Systems. She provides the kind of hands-on leadership Spectrum Health Systems needs to deliver cutting-edge health risk management services to its clients that gets results. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 573-7600.