Article

Tips For Creating A Heathly, Stress-Free Workplace

May 2007, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Carlos Rodriguez - Also by this author

Most business owners face the common and costly problem of worker stress whether they are aware of it or not. In a recent Gallup Poll, 80 percent of workers said they feel stress on the job. Nearly half said they need help in learning how to manage stress, and 42 percent said their coworkers need help in coping with stress.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of a job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker. Research shows that job stress can lead to several problems, including illness and injury for employees, higher health insurance costs, and lost productivity for employers.

Causes of Employee Stress

Good prevention strategies focus on identifying potential causes of employee stress in the workplace. Factors that can lead to stress include:

  • The design of tasks – Long work hours, routine tasks that have little meaning or work that does not take advantage of employees’ skills
  • Management style – Lack of input in decision-making, poor organizational communication or lack of family-friendly policies
  • Interpersonal relationships – Poor social environment or lack of support from colleagues and supervisors
  • Work roles – Conflicting or uncertain job expectations or too much responsibility
  • Career concerns – Job insecurity, rapid changes or lack of opportunity for growth, advancement or promotion
  • Environmental conditions – Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution or ergonomic problems

While identifying potential problems is important, business owners can also benefit from learning their employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Personality tests can reveal valuable information about employees’ coping styles and allow employers to ensure that they are the right fit for their positions. For example, basic personality tests can give guidance on ideal matches for certain types of positions. Introverted or shy individuals often have difficulty with positions that require strong interpersonal skills and action-oriented manners.  While personality tests can be helpful, they should not be solely relied on in making an employment decision and should be validated to ensure legal compliance.

Impact on the Bottom Line

Job stress comes with a costly price tag – more than $300 billion a year for U.S. industries according to the American Institute of Stress. This total includes accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover and diminished productivity, as well as direct medical, legal and insurance costs to business owners.

For employees, stress can lead to illness, injury or job failure. For employers, research shows that a stressful work environment can affect the amount of their budget that must be allocated to employee health care contributions. Health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Job stress can lead to a variety of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders and workplace injuries. Stress not only affects individual workers’ health, but it also can create a domino effect on colleagues who have to fill in for absent co-workers for long periods of time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers who must take time off work because of stress, anxiety or related disorders generally are off the job for about 20 days.
 
Because some employees may not be comfortable speaking with their employers about stress, managers should watch for early warning signs such as complaints about headaches or sleep disturbances. Other indicators include difficulty in concentrating, short tempers or low morale.

Signs that job stress may be a widespread issue within a company are health and job complaints among several workers, general low morale and high employee turnover.

Ways to Combat On-the-Job Stress

To help employees cope with stress before it affects their health or performance, business owners can:

  • Ensure that workloads are in line with workers' capabilities and resources.
  • Design jobs that provide meaning, stimulation and opportunities for workers to use their skills.
  • Clearly define workers' roles and responsibilities.
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.
  • Improve communications to reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.
  • What about encouraging physical fitness/exercise with employee discounts to a local fitness facility?

Business owners can also reduce workplace stress by encouraging employees to take short breaks, making time for staff members to have fun in the office or occasionally providing special perks such as early departures. Another way to combat stress is to provide an Employee Assistance Program that offers confidential professional counseling.

To prevent individual stress from becoming a widespread problem, business owners can work to create a healthy, low-stress environment. Entrepreneurs who maintain low-stress environments and high levels of productivity generally recognize employees for good work performance, provide opportunities for career development, create an organizational culture that values individual workers and act consistently with organizational values.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a comprehensive approach to creating a healthy workplace is best. Organizational change combined with stress management results in a healthy company with fewer stress disorders, more satisfied and productive workers, and significant advantages over competitors.

Vol 4, Issue 3

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