Stress Reduction In The Workplace: Save Your Bottom Line
Numerous studies have shown that job stress is the leading cause of stress for Americans, and in today’s difficult economy, many workers are finding themselves more stressed out and anxious than ever before. With layoffs and budget cuts looming in the backs of employees’ minds, many workers are finding the pressure difficult to manage. The 2000 annual “Attitudes In The American Workplace VI” Gallup Poll sponsored by the Marlin Company found that 80% of workers feel stressed out at work, and half of these workers would like help learning how to manage their stress. Some employers are offering up gym memberships or yoga classes to combat job stress, but there are some simpler ways an employer can help minimize stress in the workplace on a day-to-day basis.
A small amount of stress is common and can be a good thing, but too much stress for workers can lead to huge losses for employers. According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress costs US businesses upwards of $300 billion per year in employee absenteeism, directly related medical expenses and health insurance costs, employee turnover, Workers’ Compensation awards, accidents, and diminished productivity. A report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work found that employee absenteeism cost US companies over $600 per worker per year. That can amount to millions of dollars for larger employers.
An estimated one million Americans are absent from work every day due to stress. Stress overload is a big reason employees call in sick, and eventually can lead to worker burnout. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 40% of job turnover is due to workplace stress. A 2000 Integra Survey similarly reported that almost one in five survey respondents had quit a previous position because of job stress. Replacing one average employee today costs employers between $3,000 – $13,000.
Too much stress in the workplace results in a negative attitude or work environment, which can cause poor relations with coworkers, irritability, and eventually escalate to violence. Workers may become depressed or sleep deprived, which could result in substance abuse or over-eating, not to mention lack of focus and impaired judgement. All of this effects the quality of life of workers and the bottom line for employers.
When workers are constantly operating on high stress mode, it can have serious effects on cognitive function. Stressed out workers can experience memory problems, lack of concentration, and poor judgement. Stress can be blamed for approximately 60 – 80% of accidents on the job. Some of these accidents have enormous consequences, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, which had economic impacts of billions of dollars, far-reaching environmental damage and inestimable societal implications.
What is the definition of stress?
Stress is the body’s physical response to any kind of demand. Physical or emotional stressors trigger the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response, by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream which allows us to be more focused, energetic, and alert. In small amounts, stress can help us, and it can even save our lives. However, beyond a certain point, stress becomes harmful and can wreak havoc on our mental and physical well-being, which in turn can have undesirable effects on our relationships, productivity, and overall quality of life. Studies have shown that acute stress can cause ulcers, digestive problems, headaches, chest pain, back pain, increased blood pressure, weakened immune system, depression, fatigue, and the list goes on. Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to serious disease such as heart attack, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and mental breakdown. Nearly every system in your body is effected. An estimated 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints or disorders.
Once employers understand the negative implications of stress in the workplace and the resulting impact on business, they can implement some simple strategies for reducing stress. Taking steps to reduce or eliminate stress will lead to happier employees, and employers may benefit from increased efficiency/productivity, reduced absenteeism, better staff retention, reduced accidents and injuries, and an overall improved bottom line. These five little steps can make a big difference.
1. Make sure managers are leading by example.
Managers should lead and encourage employees in stress relieving activities, such as walking or meditation. A manager who incorporates physical activity in her workaday could inspire workers to step away from their desks and do the same. A manager could even schedule “walk breaks.” Physical activity boosts the immune system and relieves tension.
2. Encourage early office arrival by offering bagels or other breakfast options.
This allows you to ease into the workday rather than starting the day frazzled and overwhelmed with emails, meetings, and demands.
3. Create a space dedicated to relaxation.
Creating an oasis at the office dedicated to relaxing offers workers a place to get away and re-group. Employers could teach relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga. Many people find that a little quiet time leaves them feeling clear-headed and refreshed.
4. Encourage socializing and team building activities.
When workers can enjoy each others’ company, it makes for a much happier environment. Team building exercises and social activities can boost company morale.
5. Allow pets at the office.
Pets are a great stress reliever and make employees feel more at home. Pets can encourage walking breaks and employee interaction.