Stress. It’s a word that has been so over-used that it’s almost become meaningless. But given a recent study, one would think that workplace stress should come with a Surgeon General Warning.
Caution: Workplace Stress Can Lead to Higher Health Care Costs, Increased Absenteeism, and even Death.
Stress isn’t just causing employees sleepless nights, churning stomachs and recurring headaches. According to researchers from Harvard and Stanford Business Schools, workplace stress is a significant factor in both health problems and health care costs, contributing to at least 120,000 deaths each year, and costs between $125-$190B in additional health care expenditures.
And that actually might be a conservative number. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls workplace stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century” that costs American businesses as much as $300B annually. In fact, the 2015 “Stress in America” Report from the American Psychological Association, and conducted by Harris Poll, found that Americans say money (67%) and work (65%) are somewhat or very stressful for them.
What is Work-Related Stress?
WHO defines work-related stress as “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope” and is exacerbated when employees don’t receive the support they need from supervisors or their environment.
“Workplace stress generally falls into one of two categories: the content of their work and the context of their work,” says Toni Sicola, Director of Corporate Wellness at Livzo. “A person who is bored, or perhaps is inundated with work, someone who is stuck in a badly designed role or work schedule experiences content-related stress. Someone who is lacking career opportunity or are, perhaps afraid for their job, are experiencing unfair practices or pay scales are experiencing stress from the context of their work.”
Can Workplace Stress be Healthy?
To be sure, there is such a thing as “healthy stress,” or rather, acceptable pressure that motivates an employee to accomplish goals (it’s called “eustress” and applies to all positive stress, not just in the workplace). But the key word is “acceptable.” And acceptable is entirely individualistic: how one is wired, what resources they have available to them, their level of resilience, their own talents, and the confidence they have in those talents all contribute to whether stress is “acceptable.” But a key element in stress is the notion of “manageability” and once the level of pressure becomes out of control or unmanageable – it’s become negative, workplace stress that is detrimental to an employee’s health.
The researchers from Harvard and Stanford began by identifying both on- an off- the-job sources of stress that can affect a person’s health, which can be classified in two ways. “They are inherently stressful on the body and also lead to unhealthy behaviors like alcoholism and overeating,” said Joel Goh, assistant professor of Harvard’s School of Business Administration and lead researcher on the study.
There are two ways to take action on the findings in this study. We can conclude that the workplace is a toxic environment that can be incredibly damaging to our employees … OR, we can look for ways to solve the problem and create healthy environments that benefit our people as well as our profits.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated – and our employees are no different. Employees need to feel valued and respected. Our firms are only as good as the employees who are in them. They serve our customers, create the products and services that bring value to our companies, and are the living embodiment of our corporate brands. They deserve all the support we, as leaders, can provide… it’s just good business.
Check out this infographic we found from Eastern Kentucky University that explains the health and work hazards of excessive stress AND offers some ideas on what to do to enhance the workforce.