The Importance of Addressing Workplace Stress
Employers can do much more to help their employees relieve stress during the pandemic.
- By Reed Erickson
- May 07, 2021
From juggling projects to navigating conflicts with coworkers and everything in between, work can be a source of a lot of stress in our lives. April is Stress Awareness Month, and according to the American Psychological Association (APA), Americans have many reasons to be stressed about work, including factors related to the pandemic.
Pandemic-Related Job Stress
While stress is impossible to eliminate, managing work stress is a key component to maintaining long-term health. Many workers may have seen significant increases in work-related stress this past year due to shifts in work environment, threatened job security, social changes and demands on essential workers. In its 2020 Stress in America Report, the APA notes that 68 percent of Americans reported that the pandemic negatively affected their jobs. Helping employees learn how to effectively deal with stress, both personally and professionally, can create a more manageable and productive work environment.
The True Costs of Unaddressed Stress
Occupational stress may appear to be a routine and somewhat benign problem, but in reality, it contributes substantially to both economic and health-related burdens for employers. Health problems related to stress add up to employee health expenses that are almost 50 percent greater than those of unstressed employees, totaling more than $300 billion worth of losses from health costs, absenteeism and poor job performance. Such costs are incurred as employees may experience stress-induced health concerns or resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with their stress. During 2021, for example, nearly 75 percent of essential employees reported changes in weight, and 80 percent reported changes in sleep due to increased work stress. About 75 percent of these same employees in the study noted that they wanted more emotional support than they received, suggesting the correlation between unhealthy coping mechanisms and a lack of employer support.
Taking Steps to Curb Employee Stress
Partnering with external employee wellness resources, including enlisting the help of a trusted health care partner, helps employers offer important supportive services that might not otherwise be available internally. Many programs can help employees address stress and overall health management with a reliable and experienced professional, which can lead not only to significantly lower levels of stress, but also improved outcomes and a better work engagement. Such programs might include options like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a stress management phone app available through your company’s health insurance provider. It’s also important for supervisors, managers and other company leaders to check in with their employees weekly and encourage them to provide honest feedback regarding their workload, work environment and responsibilities in light of the present unpredictable working environment. Doing so will help delineate clear paths for improvement and show a commitment to creating a sustainable and employee-oriented work environment. To further the conversation about stress within the workplace, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends using a combination of techniques, including holding group discussions, creating employee surveys and analyzing historical employment data to help identify the root problems of employees’ stress and make appropriate organizational changes.
A Worthwhile Investment: Positive ROI on Stress Management Programs
Not only are stress management resources effective in reducing employee stress, but research suggests they are cost effective for employers. A study in the Netherlands showed that return on investment for stress prevention training was sixty-fold: the program cost about $60 per employee to implement and led to over $3,500 per employee in net benefits, particularly as employees in the training reported half the rate of absenteeism as their peers over the span of a year. Furthermore, the study indicated that the program paid for itself in about one year for nearly 97 percent of employees, making an employer’s investment in such resources extremely beneficial and cost-effective.
Even if there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with stress, striving to make the workplace less stressful for employees is key to a better and happier workforce, especially in today’s challenging and dynamic workplace environment.
Reed A. Erickson, MD, MBA, CPS/A, MedExpress, as a medical leader of our Employer Health Services, is an expert in the area of workplace health, especially DOT/FMCSA medical certifications and guidelines. From workers’ compensation and injury care to employment certifications and screenings, he is able to provide industry insights and best practices to help organizations promote the health and well-being of their employees. Dr. Erickson also leads the Hearing Conservation Program at MedExpress as Professional Supervisor.