Work-related stress

  1. 1 in 4 people in the US consider their job to be the main source of stress in their lives.
  2. The cost of job-related stress to American industry is estimated at $150 billion per year.
  3. There are many contributing factors to job-related stress, including working environment and working practices.
  4. Stress induces a fight-or-flight physiological reaction, causing increases in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.
  5. Short term effects of stress include anger, anxiety, headaches and muscle pain.
  6. Long term effects of stress may include hypertension, heart disease and depression.
  7. A stress prevention program should include:
    • Research into the scope of problems causing stress
    • Organizational change to address problems
    • Evaluation of the effectiveness of the program once in place

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Work-Related Stress Overview

A finding by Northwestern National Life, in the booklet “Stress at Work” by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicates that as many as one in four people consider their jobs to the be the primary source of stress in their lives. The cost of job stress to American industry is estimated at $150 billion per year through absenteeism, lower productivity, health insurance and medical expenses. Work-related stress causes unwanted physical and emotional effects on an individual as a result of excessive pressures or demands. Contributing factors to work-related stress include working environment (eg. hazardous conditions), working practices (eg. lack of control, communication or clear job description, increased workload, long hours) and unethical management practices (eg. bullying or harassment).

Health Effects of Work-Related Stress

When an individual encounters a stressful situation, their body’s physiological reaction is to prepare them for an emergency, either by confronting the issue or running away – the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response. In this response, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration are increased and are released to accelerate the effect.

Short-term psychological effects of stress include anxiety, anger and depression, while physical effects include headaches, sleep deprivation and muscular aches and pains. Long-term stress on an individual, as a result of the body’s continued state of alert, has been linked to hypertension, ulcers and heart disease. Long-term psychological effects include depression and increased propensity to substance abuse.

Reduce Work-Related Stress

An employer can introduce a stress prevention program to reduce work-related stress. The nature and extent of the program will depend on the resources of the organization. The first step to an effective program is to identify the problems by holding individual & group discussions and looking at absenteeism and turnover rates. This helps to identify the nature and scope of the problems causing stress in the workplace. The next step is to instigate organizational change to address the problems identified, such as improving the working environment. Evaluation of the program is essential to monitor its effectiveness once it is in progress.

The physical and emotional health of employees directly impacts the health of a business. Therefore, it makes good business sense to ensure that employees are well. This ensures greater productivity, efficiency and commitment by employees to the organization and a healthier and safer workplace environment.

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Essential links

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Stress…at Work

Bureau of Labor statistics “Occupational stress”
US Dept of Labor – Bureau of labor Statistics. “Occupational stress”.

Business Owner Briefing
Job Stress Network: Reducing Occupational Stress. An Introductory Guide for Managers, Supervisors and Union Members

Medical Director Review
Worksite Characteristics and Environmental and Policy Supports for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in New York State. Brissette et al., 2008

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