Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!

Episode #: 84: Work-Related Stress



Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, a production of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, broadcasting from Hamilton, Ontario.

Host:  Thanks for joining us. Today we are addressing work-related stress. Have you ever felt overloaded at work? Do you have trouble sleeping at night because the demands and pressures of your job or just too much to handle?  You may be experiencing work-related stress.  If left unchecked for a prolonged period of time stress can make you sick.

Do you know that work-related stress is widespread?  In the European Union work-related stress is second only to back pain as the most common work-related health problem, now affecting 20% of workers.  According to a survey by the American Psychology Association released in early March 2013, one-third of American employees experience chronic stress at work.  Whether it originates from within or out, the pressure to work at optimum pace and performance can take a toll on and negatively impact both the organization and the employee. 

Studies show that stressful working conditions are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, high staff turnover, reduced productivity, and product and service quality, as well as increased compensation costs, all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line. The impact of stress on workers may include tobacco, alcohol or drug abuse, violent bullying behaviour, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate and irritability. Chronic stress can also cause health issues such as back problems, heart problems, stomach ulcers and hypertension, and can weaken the immune system.  Everyone has different thresholds for and triggers of stress. However, some workplace factors are more likely to lead to stress than others.

Here are some examples of potential causes of work-related stress. A job design that is not matched well to the worker’s skills and abilities can have a great impact on stress.  Also lack of clarity about a worker’s roles, their responsibilities and expectations, can also negatively impact the worker.  Other factors include negative work relationships, such as constant discord, bullying, harassment or open aggressive behaviour, a lack of control over planning and deciding how work should be completed and unreasonable demands and performance targets. Although some of these factors may occur in a workplace without leading to stress, the risk for stress increases when these factors occur in combination and/or for prolonged periods of time.

Employers there are a few things you can do to ease the stress on your employees. You can start by treating all employees in a fair and respectful manner.  Be proactive and assess the risk of work-related stress by looking for pressures at work that could cause high and prolonged levels of stress, and take appropriate action to prevent the pressures from becoming negative stressors. Also when designing the job, try to match the workload to worker’s capabilities and remember to establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside of the job.  Think about designing meaningful jobs that are stimulating and provide opportunities for employees to use their skills. Another thing to think about is allowing employees to have control over the tasks they do as much as possible.  Involving employees in decision-making and problem-solving will send a clear message that you value their input.  Communication should be a priority, so consider improving communication with your employees to help reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.

People spend a lot of time at work.  Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees and lastly Employee Assistance programs can be very helpful.  Try to make them available and make sure your employees know about them.

Are you an employee?  Often the source of the stress is something that you cannot change immediately, therefore it's important to find ways to help maintain good mental health and be proactive in dealing with stress.  In the workplace you may find some of the following tips to be helpful. It's always helpful to prioritize your day by taking ten minutes or so each morning to organize your work. Also don't be afraid to speak up and suggest practical suggestions to improve your work. Just remember to be constructive and also realistic about what you can change.  When you start to feel overwhelmed, try taking several deep breaths throughout the day or have regular stretch breaks to help you relax. Don't forget to take your breaks. Try going for a walk at lunch or do something you enjoy that is not not work-related.

Respectful workplaces that encourage good communications and healthy work systems are more likely to have a healthy and productive workforce.

 For more information about workplace stress, visit www.ccohs.ca. Thanks for listening everyone!