Employers who don’t take work-related stress seriously might be shocked to learn that, according to the American Institute of Stress, U.S. companies incur $200 billion to $300 billion every year in work-related stress claims. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that claims resulting from work-related stress have an average duration of 23 days, which is four times longer than the average number of days lost from nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, work-related stress is defined as the “ … harmful and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of a job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker.” Stress can result in both physical and mental illness and can also be directly responsible for physical injuries. An article in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that the costs of administering health care are 50% higher for workers who claim job-related stress. To combat work-related-stress claims, employers must learn to recognize the primary causes of stress. NIOSH has identified 6 main reasons for work-related stress:
- Design of Tasks and Jobs: Heavy workloads; infrequent rest breaks; long work hours; shift work; and hectic or routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not fully use worker skills and provide little sense of control.
- Interpersonal Relationships: A poor social environment and lack of support or help from co-workers and supervisors.
- Management Style: Poor communication and not encouraging participation by workers in decision-making.
- Work Roles: Conflicting or uncertain job expectations and responsibilities that are defined too broadly.
- Career Concerns: Job insecurity; lack of opportunities for growth, advancement or promotion; and rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.
- Environmental Conditions: Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomics problems.
Proactive steps which employers can take to reduce stress in their work force include:
- Improve Employee Communications – Make your workers feel involved by getting their feedback on management plans or decisions.
- Give Employees a Sense of Control – Give your employees as much independence in the operation of their jobs as is reasonable and responsible.
- Keep Employees in the Loop – Eliminate the stress of uncertainty by telling your employees what changes are going on and how they may be affected.
- Don’t Label Employees – It’s healthy for employees to vent their concerns and frustrations as opposed to bottling up the stress because they fear retaliation, so let them express themselves freely.
- Don’t Overload Your Employees – Do whatever possibly to reduce excessive workloads that exceed an employee’s abilities. Spread the load.
- Create Realistic Work Schedules – Try to be flexible with your work schedules by considering the demands imposed on employees outside the job. Be as creative as possible and show you care. Be approachable.
- Define Their Roles – Ensure employees clearly understand their responsibilities and what roles they play.
- Give Meaning to Your Employees’ Skills – Try to design jobs so they stimulate and give meaning to your employees. Treat each employee as an asset and offer opportunities for advancement and cross-training. Try to incorporate all the skills they have to offer.
- Socialize – Give your employees a venue in which they can interact socially, such as company picnics, sports or other activities.
Work-related stress affects the morale of your company. Stressed employees file more work-related claims resulting from physical injuries, health and mental conditions. You can reduce Workers Compensation claims simply by taking action and implementing positive stress-relieving measures.