According to an article in BusinessNewsDaily: "Nearly half of all workers suffer from moderate to severe stress while on the job and 66 percent of employees report that they have difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress. Stress has been called the "health epidemic of the 21st century" by the World Health Organization and is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year.
Now take a look at the following slide from a NIOSH (National Institute of Safety and Health) sponsored webinar on the negative effects of job stress with Dr. Dan Ganster of the University of Colorado and Dr. Leslie Hammer of the Portland State University.
The surprising thing about this chart is the professionals on the right have twice the rate of death due to heart disease as the professionals on the left. They DON'T have a more physically demanding job and they AREN'T exposed to more toxic substances, either. When you make allowances in the study for any differences in diet and exercise, the most likely explanation of why the people on the left have lower mortality rates is the varying degrees of stress between the two categories. Dr. Ganster calls this The Stress Hypothesis because we can't absolutely prove that stress IS the cause, (because what's stressful depends on so many different factors) but we CAN make the following assumptions about the way stress affects most everyone in the workplace:
Stage 1 (primary) is our initial reaction to stress which includes elements of fear, muscle tension and increased cortisol production (a stress hormone). This is what happens during a typical (short term) stressful event like missing an important deadline, getting up to give a presentation, getting criticized by your boss or getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work.
Stage 2 (secondary) occurs when your exposure to stress continues over time: Set points for resting blood pressure, BMI, hip to waist ratio, glucose levels, cholesterol and triglycerides begin to gradually creep upward. This is what happens when some of the above events recur over the course of months or, if you're only moderately adept at handling stress, years.
Stage 3 (tertiary) In this stage, if nothing is done to lower or prevent chronic exposure to stress the onset of stress-related DIS-EASE begins. This could include the beginning stages of heart disease, depression, diabetes, gastro-intestinal problems and other stress related health issues. This CAN and often DOES happen when you are working in a stressful environment where constant deadlines, long hours, and working under pressure is just part of the culture. (But it can also happen in less stressful environments if you are sensitive to stress.)
So that's the 1-2-3 punch of stress. First you feel the initial signs and symptoms, like a tension headache, an underlying sense of fear, or you wake up in the morning with a knot in your stomach. Then your resting blood pressure may start to rise, you may start to gain weight, and/or your cholesterol may start to creep up. When your stress continues unabated for months or even years, or you're stress-sensitive, eventually you may be dealing with a serious health problem like heart disease, depression or diabetes.
Can you stop this stress cycle? Absolutely. Take a look at our most popular products - Biodots, Stop Stress This Minute, or The Day Away From Stress CD - these are being used by organizations across the country to provide relaxation solutions for their patients, clients and employees.
PART 2: Job Stress and Improving Your Work Environment
Here are the top five causes of stress at work.
1. Low employee control. When the pacing of work, how you do your job and when to take breaks are dictated by someone else.
2. Role ambiguity. When you're unclear what your duties are, how raises are given out and what they are given out for. You don't know have a strong sense of your priorities.
Years ago there was a study of Microsoft workers who were putting in really long hours and the researchers who studied them were surprised to find that these workers suffered no ill-effects. The researchers concluded that what made the difference for these Microsoft employees was control. Even though they often put in 16 hour days, they still had CONTROL over when they worked and when they didn't. They could go home in the middle of the day to see a child in a school play or come in late, or work from home if need be. That sense of control didn't prevent them from working long hours, it only prevented them from having (stress-related) health problems.
(This is a point that most management teams don't fully appreciate).
Interested in getting this idea of employee control and supervisor support into your company? Take a look at our Job Stress presentation, available as a POWERPOINT® program that will help you teach employees how to cope with stress at work. Everything you need to put on a 1-hour program on job stress is included. You'll get forty illustrated POWERPOINT® slides, a full text and outline for your presentation. You can even choose to download the program when you place your order and save!
Stress doesn't always DIRECTLY cause health problems. It causes the unhealthy lifestyle choices that lead to health problems. So for example, as work-life stress increases so does smoking behavior, getting less sleep, getting less exercise and making poorer food choices. Dr. Leslie Hammer of Portland State University calls work-life stress the "cause of the causes. It's an occupational hazard in and of itself." Work-life stress is associated with decreased psychological health, physical health, and safety outcomes. It's also associated with increased absenteeism, turnover intentions, substance abuse and decreased organizational commitment.
A Tower-Watson study published in the Work & Stress Journal in November 2013 named stress as the number one workforce risk factor, placing it above diabetes, obesity and lack of exercise. According to Dr. Hammer, when we decrease our stress we have more (personal) resources to allocate to other areas of our lives. We might be more likely to resist that dessert, or go for that walk at lunch time, or simply work harder when our stress levels remain in the MANAGABLE range. Stress also impacts safety at work because stress inhibits our ability to concentrate and focus. Here again lowered stress allows us to allocate more resources to concentrating harder, keeping us more mindful and attentive to what we're doing at work.
So what exactly is the ROI for managing stress at work? These are the benefits that we KNOW of:
Improved employee loyalty.
Stress has been called the "health epidemic of the 21st century" by the World Health Organization and is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year according to the American Institute of Stress.
The WELCOA conference is suggesting that wellness programs move in a new direction. In my mind no one addressed this point better than Jim Purcell, formerly of Rhode Island Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the founder of the Returns on Wellbeing Institute. He says you have to change the culture from the top down. "No matter how good the program is it will fail in a toxic culture. The key to happiness in the workplace boils down to two simple elements. Having work that you love to do in a place where you love to do it."