Cut Down the Stress

Walking down the hallway last week, I noticed one of my employees whose eyes appeared very tired. I asked her if she was OK, and she responded that she had not slept much in the past few days, due to a software upgrade issue we had been undertaking for several days. While it was being completed, her work—in which she takes great pride—was falling behind. After many phone calls and hassles and another computer consultant, we finally made the final adjustments this past Friday. I asked if she were going to get some sleep now, and she responded that she could.

We’ve all had workplace stressors. No one—from the executive to the fast food worker—is immune. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplace stress may be linked to injuries, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, some psychological disorders, suicide, cancer, ulcers and impaired immune function. Individuals may notice symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, sleep disturbance and a short temper.

How prevalent are workplace stressors? A study conducted by Northwestern National Life revealed that one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. Another study found that three out of four employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. Yet another study found that problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor—more so than even financial problems or family problems.

Workplace stressors typically fall into either the organizational or worker category. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the most effective interventions look to address both the employee and organizational facets to successfully combat workplace stress issues. When only one of the factors is addressed (e.g., stress management classes offered to workers), the positive results are often temporary because causes found at the organizational level are not addressed.

What can be done to combat workplace stress? Studies suggest a multifaceted approach. First, employers need to take the time to thoroughly investigate a potential employee’s references and work history. Chances are good that an employee who does not interview well or who has a bad work history will be a cause of considerable stress if hired. On a side note, if an employer finds his or herself in a circumstance in which they have an employee causing considerable stress for fellow workers (we’ve all had at least one), it’s time to find a replacement at the earliest convenience. Bad employees drive good employees away. Second, it is important to provide education on job-related stress and on training in personal coping skills to both employees and management. Third, the management hierarchy dynamics should be reviewed to determine if it is contributing to any organizational sources of stress. Finally, when feasible, organizations should establish employee assistance programs.

The results of such steps can be quite profound. The lack of any action can cause the loss of good workers, increased stress on both management and staff and reduced productivity at all levels.

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