By Albert Ray, M.D., Kaiser Permanente Southern California
Feeling anxious and stressed at work can cause negative physical and emotional health effects for employees, resulting in lost productivity and higher health costs. Fortunately, employers can help employees stay healthy, and help their bottom line, by reducing stress in the workplace.
Hard Facts About Stress
High stress can result in depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviors and substance abuse. Moreover, it can lead to headaches, fatigue, insomnia, stomach disorders, hypertension and high blood pressure.
A study published August 2011 in BMC Public Health, Psychosocial Working Conditions and the Utilization of Health Care Services, shows that those with high-stress jobs visited physicians 26 percent more often than those with low-stress jobs. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work reports that over half of the 550 million working days lost annually in the U.S. from absenteeism are stress-related. It goes on to say that unanticipated absenteeism is estimated to cost American companies $602 per worker per year and the price tag for large employers could approach $3.5 million annually.
Given these statistics, it’s important for businesses to protect their employees and their bottom line. The good news is that there are many things businesses can do to help employees manage stress at work.
Stress Reducing Tips
The best approach to reducing job stress is asking managers to encourage and lead employees in stress relief activities such as walking, eating healthier, laughing and even nonsectarian meditating. For instance:
• Sticking to a regular exercise program of brisk walking can boost a person’s immune system. Even low levels of aerobic exercise help. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week is effective. Managers can add walking breaks or other exercise to meeting agendas. Scheduling 15-minute walking breaks during long meetings helps reduce stress that might have built up. Employees typically come back refreshed and ready to work.
• Showing employees how to adjust their frame of mind can impact stress levels. Continual negative thoughts can increase stress, while maintaining a positive attitude can cut stress. Positive thinking has been shown to increase life span, lower rates of depression, improve coping skills during hardship and even provide greater resistance to the common cold.
Among effective steps that can help reduce stress:
• Create a space for quiet time or meditation.
• Encourage or create social activity, team building and fun.
• Allow pets at the office.
At Kaiser Permanente, employees have the option to download stretch break reminders to their computers. These reminders appear throughout the day and provide employees with a different stretch each time, reminding them of the importance of stepping away from their desks throughout the day.
The bottom line in reducing stress on the job is to make moderate exercise part of a regular routine.
Employers can learn more about relaxation tools at the Kaiser Permanente website under Mental Health and Emotional Wellness. In addition, visit everybodywalk.org to learn about the many benefits of walking.
Albert Ray, M.D., is the physician director for patient education and health promotion for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. He is a co-author of the book Healthy Employees, Healthy Business–Easy, Affordable Ways to Promote Workplace Wellness, which features steps employers can take to cut stress on the job. In addition, Ray outlines how employers can help workers deal with stress in a two-part podcast.
High-Stress Jobs Linked to Higher Health Costs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011
Poor Emotional Well-Being Is Obstacle to Wellness Efforts, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, August 2011
Using Behavioral-Based Design to Encourage Healthy Behavior, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, August 2011
Uncommon Knowledge: Using Health Assessment Data, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2011
Why Employee Well-Being Matters to Your Bottom Line, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2009
SHRM Online Benefits Discipline
SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page
SHRM Online Retirement Plans Resource PageSHRM Online Workplace Flexibility Resource Page