The ‘S’ Word That’s Costing Businesses Billions of Dollars Per Year- Stress in the Workplace

Workplace stress affects employees and employers alike for different reasons. Dealing with long-term stress increases health problems and death rates in the U.S. According to major health care providers and insurers in the United States, employee faces common health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Mental health conditions include an increase in depression, anxiety, and substance use. LeBlanc and Marques (2019) emphasize that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health explain that up to 40% of Americans have reported being “extremely stressed at work.” Healthcare costs are approximately 50% higher for stress related illnesses. Since COVID-19 started, statistics have illustrated a 40% increase in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications due to the overwhelming challenges individuals face with uncertainty and change.

Stelter (2019) explains that the costs for employers is an astonishing 300 billion per year and rising. These costs are associated with increased absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, and healthcare costs. Stress has also been found to be the single best predictor of worker’s compensation claims. Stressed workers are found to miss twice as much time from work than less stressed co-workers. In addition, close to half of employees have mentally “checked out” and reported to stop caring about their work and nearly 50% have quit their jobs due to stress.

What are some common signs that you or your employees are suffering from stress at work:

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Often late to work
  • Falling behind on work
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Irritability or overly negative
  • Lack of focus
  • Burn-out/fatigue
  • Frequent illness
  • Feeling disengaged/disconnected
  • Feeling over-worked
  • Conflict with others

As an employee, what can you do?

  • Be aware of with whom you spend time at work, as negativity can rub off and bring you down. If you work in a stressful environment, surrounding yourself with people who constantly complain is only going to increase your stress and anxiety – making you feel worse.
  • Prioritize your day, so you know what you have to tackle based on priority. Keep yourself organized and on track. Run your day, so your day doesn’t run you! You will feel less in control of your day if you approach it with a “whatever happens today happens” attitude.
  • Take breaks throughout your day. If you start to feel the stress creep up, step away for a few minutes and then go back to your task.
  • Be flexible with yourself and others. You may be adding more pressure to yourself by forcing things to occur in a certain way, or completing tasks in a certain order/manner. Try to find new ways to do things, while still getting the job done.
  • Talk to your supervisor about your workload and see if you can get some relief or help.

As an employer what can you do to help your employees?
The reality is that during this pandemic, the increase in social isolation, working from home, adhering to precautionary measures such as wearing a mask and ongoing hand disinfectant, being mindful of what we touch, and ongoing quarantines are making a tough situation worse. With this increased stress, it’s critical to provide employees access to resources that can help with effective coping. Employee Assistance Programs and convenient access to online mental health treatment make help accessible at the click of a button. A survey conducted by a major US health care/insurance provider revealed that 93% of employees feel that the companies that remain in business through the pandemic will be the ones who actively supported the mental health of their employees during this time.

  • Help employees stay connected to each other.
  • Talk about the reality of mental health challenges during a meeting and help de-stigmatize mental health conditions. Have your employees share what they are doing to decrease stress in their lives.
  • Educate your employees on the resources you provide that can help them access mental health treatment.
  • Encourage employees on the importance of maintaining healthy habits, such as exercise, nutrition, sleep, and staying connected to loved ones.
  • Praise and reward your employees. Send encouraging notes or emails to show your appreciation of their hard work, or acknowledge them publicly in a staff meeting.
  • Take interest in your employees. Ask how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help support them. Don’t  assume that your employees are doing okay.

LeBlanc, N.J., Marques, L. (April, 2019). How to deal with stress at work.
Stelter, N. (September, 2019). Workplace stress-the $300B business problem that’s only getting worse.

Dr. Sandra Cortez, PsyD

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