April is Stress Awareness Month, and it’s important for environment, health, and safety (EHS) professionals and managers to ensure they are staying on top of the risks to their organizations presented by job-related stress.
Each individual is equipped to cope with a certain baseline level of stress and even to deal with some temporary additional stressors. But when workers’ coping skills are exceeded and their stress levels soar, it takes a toll. The American Institute of Stress estimates that stress-related costs exceed $300 billion each year for businesses. Here’s how job stress is affecting workers and some strategies that can be used, from the executive to the supervisory level, to identify and address the issue.
The Price of Stress
Job-related stress could be costing you. Studies have shown a connection between job stress and adverse health issues, including backaches, headaches, and fatigue. It can result in direct costs to employers for medical bills, legal bills, and insurance premiums. It can also lead to steep but difficult-to-pin-down indirect costs resulting from:
- Reduced productivity and accidents, because workers who are stressed out have trouble focusing on the task at hand.
- Absenteeism and employee turnover, because workers who are experiencing heavy job-related stress are probably unhappy at work.
But how can you ferret out stress as a cause for these issues when they could also occur due to more easily identifiable causes like hangovers and seasonal flu?
Start at the Top: An Executive Level Checklist
The nonprofit, U.K.-based Stress Management Society offers suggestions for identifying and addressing stress-related issues in the workforce.
At the executive level, the Stress Management Society recommends:
- Tracking stress indicators. As mentioned above, high rates of absenteeism and staff turnover can indicate that workers are not coping well with job stress. Other possible indicators of a stressed-out workforce include widespread poor job performance and high levels of conflict among staff.
- Deciding how you will address the problem. If workers are experiencing high levels of stress, how will your organization respond? Do you have a policy that lays out workers’ options for stress management?
- Tracking program implementation. If you’re tracking stress indicators, and you’ve created a strategy for helping stressed-out workers, you should also track whether your strategies are being funded and implemented—and whether they’re effective.
- Planning ahead. Whenever you know that the job is going to be more than usually stressful—for example, when the company is being acquired, downsizing, or preparing to move to a new facility—create and implement a strategy to address worker stress in advance.
Stress from Above and Below: A Midlevel Management Checklist
Midlevel managers and department heads in health and safety need to maintain an awareness of and form strategies to address job stress in the workforce. In fact, they may need to deal with the stress of workers both above and below them in the hierarchy.
The Stress Management Society recommends that health and safety managers identify and deal with work-related stress issues by:
- Being well-informed. As with many health issues, there are best practices for dealing with work-related stress, and these are frequently updated with new information.
- Adding stress to risk assessments. Don’t leave job-related stress out of health risk assessments.
- Knowing what’s happening. Find a way to stay in the loop about organizational changes that could increase workers’ stress levels. Keep your finger on the overall pulse of employees so that you can quickly identify and respond to workers who appear to be suffering from stress-related issues.
- Keeping workers informed. Pass along relevant information about stress-related illness and stress management to workers.
- Communicating with upper management. If you have concerns about stress or stress risk among workers, make sure to provide feedback to upper management about it. Make sure to identify any issues surrounding worker privacy and fulfill any obligation you may have to protect worker confidentiality.
- Getting personal. If you notice that an individual worker is suffering frequent absenteeism, poor performance, or some other indicator of excessive job stress, find out what’s going on.
Supervisors and Job-Related Stress
The primary responsibility for dealing with workplace stress within the organization properly belongs with upper levels of management. But supervisors play a critical role in implementing stress management programs.
Supervisors can contribute to stress relief in the workplace by:
- Watching for absenteeism. Supervisors are in the best position to identify workers who are frequently absent and to determine whether stress is part of the problem.
- Identifying sources of stress. Supervisors should be aware of potential stressors that could affect their workers.
- Communicating with management. Supervisors should report their concerns about workers and stress to senior management, although they should also be careful to protect workers’ confidentiality.
Identifying and mitigating stress risks is important for EHS—and while this presents another task for managers, technology can help take the stress out of managing compliance and building a healthy workforce.