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February 2, 2017 

By Grace Irby

Does stress matter? It may not be obvious, but stress is a strain on employees; regardless of whether the stress is work related, or brought to work from personal problems outside of the workplace. Some stress is normal, but when excessive, it can lead to more serious problems.

What causes stress? Stress is not the same for everyone, but varies based on the individual. What may cause stress for one person, may not affect another individual. While some individuals thrive in stressful environments, others do not. Some common factors that cause stress are unrealistic workloads, insufficient time provided to complete a task, insufficient breaks throughout the workday, and lack of understanding what they're responsible for at work.

Does this make stress a safety concern? Definitely! Stress causes people to be less focused, which in turn can lead to harmful mistakes and serious accidents. Stress can also lead to reduced productivity, a variety of health concerns and sicknesses, and employees missing work, to name a few.

How can employers watch for stress on the job? Common signs of stress include: irritability, headaches, short temper, forgetfulness, lack of attention to detail, over-eating/under-eating, fatigue, etc. Although it is easier to spot other safety concerns on the job, stress is just as serious to catch as a lack of proper personal protective equipement (PPE).

“According to a recent poll from NPR News, 43 percent of working adults say their job negatively impacts their stress levels, eating and sleeping habits, and weight. While the poll found 25 percent of workers surveyed said their employers offer health or wellness programs in the workplace, 40 percent said the programs were "fair" or "poor."” (Quoted article: www.totalsafety.com/insights/stress-on-the-job-can-impact-workplace-safety/)

NIOSH offers an informational PDF booklet for how stress at work can be prevented. (www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/pdfs/99-101.pdf) According to this NIOSH resource, “examples of individual and situational factors that can help to reduce the effects of stressful working conditions include the following:

  • Balance between work and family or personal life
  • A support network of friends and coworkers

  • A relaxed and positive outlook”

 
So now that we realize we have a problem that needs to be addressed, what can we do for our employees? It is important to let the stressed employee know they are able to confide in you and get the help and resources they need. The key is to be approachable and sensitive to the situation. Here are some other useful tips:

  • Provide health and wellness programs for employees: healthier employees are happier employees.
  • Make sure employees have the training and resources needed to effectively complete their tasks
  • Be supportive
  • Provide sufficient breaks throughout employees shifts
  • Consider healthier snack options if vending machines or snacks are provided at work
  • Make use of bulletin board or break room signage for uplifting messages, simple stress reducers and health tips, etc.
  • Make sure job tasks are clear and reasonable
  • Let employees know what Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are available to them
  • Schedule team activities, outings, and fun competitive challenges (ex: weight loss, exercise, or healthy eating challenges). This will not only create a team-building, positive enviroment, but will also help employees reduce stress and feel healthier.

With this new year just beginning, why not make a reduced-stress work enviroment your company's achievable resolution?