Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Workplace Stress - A Business Productivity Killer

Stress in the workplace has become an increasingly hot topic over the past few decades.

Increased stress in the workplace has been shown to increase absenteeism and employee turnover. Increased stress in the workplace also increases medical and insurance costs because of rising. Workers compensation rates and awards due to mounting stress in the workplace suits. Stress, defined, is the “wear and tear” the body goes through as it adjusts to the constantly changing environment. Anything that causes change in a person’s life causes stress. Stress can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat. This is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. The threat can be any situation that is experienced as a danger. Common short-term stresses include:

• noise
• crowding
• being isolated from others
• illness
• hunger
• danger
• infection

Stress is on the rise globally due to continued economic upheavals, and workplace stress is on everyone’s mind.

Downsizing, layoffs, mergers and bankruptcies have cost hundreds of thousands of workers their jobs and cause uncomfortable, stressful situations in the workplace. Millions more workers have been shifted to unfamiliar tasks within their companies and wonder how much longer they will be employed, causing a great deal of anxiety and stress in the workplace for everyone. Adding to the pressures that workers face are new bosses, computer surveillance of production, fewer health and retirement benefits, and the feeling they have to work longer and harder just to maintain their current economic status. Workers at every level are experiencing increased tension and uncertainty.

With the war for talent raging as baby boomers retire in droves - will leadership be accelerate focus on creating healthy workplaces? Clearly we are not making the major improvements in this area, as stress levels continue to erode the quality of human capital and innovation capabilities of organizations throughout North America.

Stress in the workplace reduces productivity, adversely affects the bottom line and lowers profits causing company’s stock price to fall. The American Institute of Stress estimates that stress in the workplace costs U.S. corporations over $300 billion annually, or more than ten times the cost of all strikes combined. In addition, employers may be held liable if they do not offer programs designed to reduce stress in the workplace. It has been estimated that 75 - 90 % of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems.

One in five professionals claim that workplace stress has negatively impacted them physically or psychologically. To some, corporate culture mean toxic environments. Boosting employee productivity requires leadership to ensure that they are strengthening their emotional intelligence business acumen, and investing in stress management skills for their employees. In a recent survey by Leger Marketing, their research indicates that over 41% of blue collar, service and professional workers experience workplace stress as a result of work experiences. Physically 53% of Canadians say they are experiencing headaches, clenched jaws, indigestion, fatigue, insomnia due to stress.

As a result psychologically, 55% experience: anxiety, irritability, defensiveness, anger, mood swings, feelings of helplessness or of being trapped. Over 52% say that stress in the workplace increases their levels of impatience, causes them to procrastinate, makes them quick to argue or withdraw. 30% say stress prevents them from being recognized for their work contributions, while 22% believe that stress has prevented them from moving up in their careers.

Other insights on Canadians and stress are summarized below:

- More than six in 10 Canadians report that they are experience a great deal of stress on the job
- 34 percent of Canadians with health plans agree with the statement that “Workplace stress has been so overwhelming that it has made me physically ill at times.”
- 41 percent of Canadians say that their employer does not do nearly enough to help them manage stress at work
- It is estimated that 40% of worker turnover is due to job stress.

Unfortunately stress for professionals has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Unfortunately most organizations are not actively training all their talent to improve their emotional intelligence skills. One quick survey we provide our clients with more insight on their stress realities at work is a short diagnostic tool which gives key insights on employee’s job stress levels.

Job Stress Diagnostic ToolEnter a number on the sliding scale that best describes you:

Strongly Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly Agree

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

I can’t honestly say what I really think at the office. __________
I don’t have very much authority.
I could usually do a much better job if I were given more time. __________
I seldom receive adequate acknowledgement when my work is performed well. __________
In general, I am not particularly satisfied with my job. __________
I have the impression that I am repeatedly discriminated against at work. __________
My workplace environment is not a very pleasant or motivating environment to work in. __________
My job often interferes with my family or personal needs - and there is little tolerance for home life balance. __________
I tend to have frequent disagreements with superiors, coworkers or customers. __________
Most of the time I feel that I have very little control over my life at work.


Add up the replies to each question for your Total Job Stress Score. If you score between 10-30, you handle stress on your job well; between 40-60, moderately well; 70-100, you’re encountering problems that need to be addressed and resolved.

Employers have a major role to ease workplace stress. Workers need to learn to take some time out at work to reflect on their emotions and ask some tough questions about why they fell the way they do. Responsibility starts by taking control of one’s life and one’s environment. Employees need to have a positive attitude that they are not a victim - if the environment is toxic - change the environment. Start with the law of two feet if you cannot change it - then ensure your mental health and motivation levels are helping you become simply the best person you can strive to be.

An interesting site to visit is the American Stress Institute Website which provides helpful newsletters, knowledge sources, and access to resources to help improve your organization’s knowledge of managing stress.

Our research in creating collaborating cultures has a foundation of creating positive leaders. By thinking positively - you have the power and control to change your experiences by changing your attitude about them. Developing optimistic perspectives vs negative self-talk patterns are critical skills to develop to avoid seeing the glass half-empty - as well when you think positively you are more productive and less stressed, and hence happier with your life. In all starts, however, by knowing who you really are and what you really what out of life.

Each person is unique and there are certain features of your personality that make some jobs a better fit than others. If you’re in a job that’s not well-suited for your personality, you may be putting yourself under unnecessary stress every day you go to work. The following are some good questions to ask yourself:

* Do you like to work toward deadlines, or do you like your tasks to come in a relatively steady stream?
* Do you like to work as part of a team, or independently?
* Do you like things to be structured and routine, or loose and variable?
* Do you enjoy being a ‘big fish in a small pond’, or would you like to be a ’small fish in a big pond’? (Meaning, would you like to be a small part of a large company or a large part of a small company, or something else?)
* Do you believe in what you do, and is it important to you that you do?
* Do you like lots of change?
* Do you like lots of travel or prefer to be working close to home?

Knowing who you are and then selecting the corporate culture that will allow your special talents to soar in is an important leadership skill to develop. Having mentors and advisors in your career path can also help ensure you make the right decisions. I know personally from my own career experiences had I asked the tougher questions I would have avoided making some mistakes in my career journey. However - we learn from mistakes and stress can help us make the tough decisions to change our current reality.

We all experience some level of stress in our careers - learning how to be in control of it on your terms and avoid unhealthy stress is what having more emotional intelligence is all about. As leaders competing in the war for talent - we have a responsibility to create healthy organizational cultures where stress is healthy and not a business productivity killer which is plaguing North American businesses.

For more information you can also visit our human performance and talent management website at Helix Talent for more information on careers that we are helping our clients recruit for or learn more about our Helix Talent Service offererings see

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