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American workers are stressed out and it’s costing business big money. According to recent insurance industry studies, nearly half of workers say their job is extremely stressful and 27% claim that their job is the greatest source of stress in their life. Job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or family problems.
A study by Integra reports that 29% of employees have yelled at co-workers because of workplace stress and 14% said they work where machinery or equipment has been damaged because of workplace rage. Almost one in five respondents have quit a previous position because of stress and nearly one in four have been driven to tears. Sixty-two percent of workers report that they routinely end the day with work-related neck pain and 34% describe difficulty in sleeping because they are too stressed out.
Occupational pressures lead to employee turnover, diminished productivity, and absenteeism that have a price tag for U.S. industry at over $300 billion annually. It is estimated that 60-80% of accidents on the job are stress related and the number of Worker’s compensation claims for mental stress has increased by almost 700 percent over the past eight years. Double digit increases in worker’s compensation premiums every year due to mental stress claims threaten to bankrupt the system in several states.
Stress can be managed, however by practicing some stress busters. You can minimize stress on the job for yourself and your employees with attention to environment, work load and job security. Let’s start with the basics:
Light — Natural sunlight tends to raise the neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin. This chemical has a large impact on our mood, disposition and our ability to handle stress. Unfortunately, many offices do not have access to natural light. If possible, try to get a “dose” of natural light everyday with a walk outside or a break by a window. If you are only exposed to fluorescent lighting, consider getting a desk lamp that has the natural spectrum of lighting. It is better for your eyes and your brain.
Air — Airflow is often a big problem in many modern offices. Poor, stale air quality combined with air contaminants and fumes from office machines can interfere with positive performance. If possible, place your work area where you are not directly by copy machines and printers. Make sure that you get fresh area frequently during the day.
Seating — Evaluate your chair, especially if you sit at a desk all day. Your feet should rest flat on the floor with your knees bent at approximately a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your chair has a good backrest that lets you position your back and take the pressure off your spine. Many companies have an ergonomics expert assist in providing good seating for their employees, as low back pain and carpal tunnel are major worker compensation claims.
Workload — Make sure that you have a concrete job description that defines the scope of your responsibilities. If possible, don’t take on any new projects that are time intensive or come due during the time of another large project. Keep a priority worksheet that can be referenced frequently to make sure that you stay on task. Communicate with supervisors and/or other employees to keep them appraised of your workload. Be careful that employees are not set up to fail with unrealistic workloads due to downsizing or consolidation.
Job security — A recent poll of workers found that almost 50% of employees were concerned about retaining their job. Massive lay-offs, downsizing and the collapse of over 200 dot.com companies has left many workers wondering if their jobs will be there in the future. This worry and anxiety can lead to decreased productivity and the “institutional pathology” of checking out every rumor and anecdote whispered in the hallway. Clarify the status of the company and the job positions and seek out information from the appropriate sources, if necessary.
Productivity and a positive work environment go together. Take steps so your office environment is not like a “real life survivor program.