The cost of stress on workers in U.S. organizations is startling. From 1997 to 2001, the number of workers calling in sick due to stress tripled. The National Safety Council estimates that up to one million employee absences per day are for stress related reasons. The American Institute of Stress reports that stress is a major factor in up to 80 percent all work-related injuries and 40 percent of workplace turnovers. It also found that up to 90 percent of primary care physician visits noted stress as a major contributing factor.
According to some leading insurance carriers, up to one-third of all workers' compensation claims can be attributed to stress on the job. Likewise, an article in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine reported that healthcare expenditures are almost 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress. By failing to address this issue in the workplace, firms not only risk having a workforce suffering from lower productivity, but also increased costs of healthcare, disability, absenteeism and workers' compensation. There is also the risk of losing valuable employees who seek to work in a less nerve-wracking environment.
When Lynda Bader, president of Portland, Oregon-based Clear and Effective Communications discusses management seminar planning with executives, they are quite happy to have her present programs on time management, communications, negotiation and conflict resolution. "It is very difficult, however, to sell the idea for a stress management seminar to them," states Bader. "They seem to feel that needing help with stress is a sign of weakness."
John Reed, Ph.D., vice president of client services for Bernard Haldane Associates in Houston finds similar reactions among the executives he consults. "When the issue of stress is raised, the most common response I get is denial," he says.
Most executives will admit (if only privately) that stress is a problem, but few appreciate its potentially devastating long-term effects. Research shows that individuals who suffer from chronic stress run a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, brain atrophy, reduced disease immunity, cancer, diabetes, excess body fat, muscle pain, headaches, nutrient depletion, bone degeneration, anxiety and depression. The reasons for this are varied. Stress brings on heart problems, for example, because it leads to in creased levels of cholesterol and homocysteine, an amino acid that damages arterial walls and is strongly associated with cardiovascular diseases. Likewise, stress also causes the adrenal glands to produce excess amounts of cortisol, which can induce weight gain even in those who eat sensibly and exercise.
Stress Management 101
What steps can risk managers take to reduce personal stress? 'The first step for executives in coping with stress is to acknowledge it," says Reed. "Even the most hard-charging, high-achieving executive needs to recognize the signs of stress and decide to do something about it, not try to sweep it under the rug."
Bader agrees: "When we do stress seminars, it is always open enrollment, meaning anyone can attend," she says. "However, we've never had anyone higher than a second level manager...