Workplace stress causes untold physical and psychological harm to employees of all ages, and the cost of this debilitating health issue is staggering.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. The American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy and 550 million workdays are lost each year because of workplace stress.
Stress at work also causes 60 percent to 80 percent of company accidents and more than 80 percent of doctor visits. It has been linked to health problems ranging from metabolic syndrome to cardiovascular disease and mortality. In fact, many research studies have confirmed that job stress has been escalating during the last several decades as evidenced by absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, and medical, legal, and insurance fees.
While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with both a person’s work and life. Although there is a long list of work situations that cause employees anxiety, the most stressful are those in which workers have a sense of powerlessness.
Stressful workplaces are not just the product of the United States. In August 2016, the Wrike Digital Work Report surveyed 3,000 office workers — 1,000 respondents each in the U.K., France and Germany. Respondents from five different age brackets revealed that in most cases work demands have gone up across Europe, and stress levels in British offices were soaring.
At the same time, the 3,000 office workers surveyed reported that older employees handle stress better because they have gained wisdom and greater resilience over time. Responses to a survey commissioned by Dropbox with responses from 4,073 information workers in the U.S., Europe and Australia found that older workers adopted technology as quickly as their younger peers and felt less anxiety about it.
“The patience you develop as you get older helps you deal with stressful situations,” reports a BMW study. “A crisis comes up and rather than getting emotional you’re more likely to think, ‘This too shall pass.’ When you can be dispassionate about a problem, it’s easier to see what’s urgent and where to put your resources.”
This type of learned behavior needs to be passed on to younger workers by seasoned employees through mentoring and training. Employee wellness and stress management programs can also teach coping and life-balance skills.
Rather than continue with a long list of stress producers and negative outcomes, let’s look at how we can stop this harmful and costly trend. What can be done in the workplace to help employees avoid debilitating stressors?
A large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that a positive work environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.
According to many reports, employees who feel satisfied, valued, and happy at work typically do far better and are less stressed. They are also more productive and innovative. These findings have led some corporate leaders to implement “positive psychology” techniques in their workplaces.
Many psychology experts recommend extensive staff training and retreats followed by positivity campaigns. Executives who take things one-step at a time — often introducing little initiatives each week — typically realize tangible benefits over the course of a year.
Company leadership needs to develop a workplace culture that encourages positive work styles and discourages harmful behaviors. Leaders may need training on how to develop a productive environment, elicit positive responses, and effect successful interactions with employees. That’s why leadership training combined with a supportive company culture are vital corporate initiatives.
What initiatives is your company championing to reduce stress at work?