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Handling Workplace Stress

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

There’s nothing new about workplace stress. But recession, cutbacks, and job uncertainty have made things worse, according to many experts. Here are some ideas for reducing stress in your workplace.

Statistics about workplace stress are enough to cause stress for employers who need to manage and pay for it. Several sources estimate the annual price tag for U.S. business ranges from $150 up to $400 billion. Costs reflect stress-related absenteeism, turnover, reduced productivity, and medical, legal, insurance, and workers’ compensation expenses.

The Problem

Challenge energizes workers psychologically and physically, motivating them to learn new skills and master tasks. Meeting challenges is considered an important ingredient for healthy, productive work. Stress, on the other hand, is associated with job demands that cannot be met, exhaustion, and excessive workload demands. Stress on the job diminishes employee engagement and effectiveness, erodes worker health, and costs employers dearly. As a result, it takes a toll on business profit margins, productivity, and competitiveness.

Conditions Leading to Stress

NIOSH has identified job conditions that can lead to stress, including:

  • Task design. Problems include heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long work hours, shift work, and tasks that have little meaning, do not use workers’ skills, and provide little sense of control.
  • Management style. Lack of participation by workers in decision making, poor communication within the organization, and lack of family-friendly policies are all potential stressors.
  • Interpersonal relationships. Poor social environment and lack of support or help from co-workers and supervisors can add to stress.
  • Work roles. Issues include conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility, and too many different roles.
  • Career concerns. In this category are job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth, advancement, or promotion, and rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.
  • Environmental conditions. Stress factors include unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.

What Healthy Organizations Do

Healthy organizations (those with low rates of illness, injury, and disability) have been shown to share certain characteristics. These organizations:

  • Recognize employees for good work performance.
  • Provide opportunities for career development.
  • Create a culture that values individual workers.
  • Use management strategies that are consistent with organizational values.

Along with those basics, other actions you can take to reduce stress include:

  • Ensuring that the workload is aligned with workers’ capabilities and available resources
  • Designing jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills
  • Clearly defining roles and responsibilities
  • Giving workers opportunities to participate in decisions affecting their jobs
  • Improving communications to reduce uncertainty about job status
  • Providing opportunities for social interaction
  • Establishing work schedules that are compatible with non-work demands and responsibilities

Stress Reduction

Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the same three essential steps you use to address other workplace risks can help with stress, too.

  • Identify. Whether your organization is large or small, the goal is to get the views of all involved, including managers, labor representatives, and workers. Learn about employee perceptions, job conditions, and levels of stress, health, and satisfaction. This can be done through employee surveys (check tomorrow’s Advisor for a sample), informal discussions, and other means of data collection. Also examine objective metrics such as absenteeism, illness and turnover rates, and performance problems.
  • Intervene. Once the sources of stress have been identified and the scope of the problem is known, it’s time to concentrate on solutions or interventions. In small businesses, committees and discussions can yield good results. In large organizations, a more formal process may be needed. Before implementing interventions, you’ll want to target areas for change, propose and prioritize interventions, and communicate the plan at all levels in the organization.
  • Evaluate. As with any risk reduction strategy, it’s essential to determine whether the interventions have delivered the desired results. Establish objective measures to evaluate short- and long-term perceptions of job conditions, stress, health, and satisfaction. Refine the strategy based on results.
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Categories: Safety, Security
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  1. September 19, 2012 at 4:49 AM

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