Beware the effects of workplace stress

Feb 25 2007 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Here in the middle of cold and flu season we've got plenty of viruses and bugs going around. But researchers are discovering that many health issues today don't have a season. It appears that up to 85 percent of all medical problems are caused by stress.

The correlation between stress and health issues is mind boggling. According to Connie Tyne, executive director for the Cooper Wellness Program in Dallas, stress-related diseases will kill 52 percent of American executives.

Perhaps if more managers and leaders understood the root causes and costs of stress they would do something about it and it wouldn't be the problem that it is.

Financially, stress is expensive. But one reason managers and leaders overlook the cost of stress is because it doesn't have a line item in the budget.

Stress takes its toll in workplace accidents, absenteeism, and turnover. It steals money through lower levels of productivity. It's also the hidden demon in medical, legal, and insurance costs.

Researchers at the American Institute of Stress estimate that issues stemming from workplace stress take up at least 20 percent of a company's payroll, and over $150 billion in U.S. productivity each year.

On the emotional side, stress creates strained relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. These distractions not only drain emotional energy, they can lead to anxiety, feelings of emptiness, and depression. Physical symptoms such as weight loss or weight gain, headaches, ulcers, and increased blood pressure can also occur.

And get this: People who get less than five hours of sleep twice a week or more are 300 percent more susceptible to heart attacks.

So should we eliminate stress altogether? No. A certain amount of stress is healthy -- and even necessary. But let's face it: We've glamorized the "power workers" who put in 10 and 12 hour days, are accessible to clients 24/7, and answer e-mail on smart phones during lunch breaks.

But stress is not limited to Type A personalities. Charles Meade, chief clinical officer with Business Psychology Associates in Boise, says that "stress cuts across all tiers of the organization. Executives, managers, line workers, office workers, support staff; everyone can be affected."

Meade goes on to say, "Employees feel stressed when the demands of the job don't line up with the employee's ability to meet those demands. This could be for personal reasons, or that the organization hasn't provided enough resources to do the job, or that the company hasn't done a good job of analyzing what it is it's asking the employees to do."

Of those reasons, "it's usually the last two - the characteristics of the organization - that's the cause of the stress," Meade says.

Ouch. That's a pretty strong indictment.

Now let's look at it another way: "Stressed" is another way of saying "losing control." It's just that losing control is a taboo phrase, so we don't use it.

Example: The computer isn't doing what we want and we're late for a meeting. We're losing control of the situation but we say we're stressed. Or the sales department just promised delivery in two weeks when it will take us four weeks to make the order. We're losing control of our work environment, but we say we're stressed.

I bring up this different perspective because it's often useful in drawing the line. When enough is enough, someone has to take control and say something or the problem can get worse.

Sadly, it often does.

Ongoing stress often becomes chronic, and chronic stress leads to depression. If you don't think this can happen to you, think again. Over 18 million Americans are affected by depression, and most never seek treatment. This is especially true of senior management. It's hard to see themselves as having authority if they're "depressed."

As such, 90 percent of senior managers who are depressed go undiagnosed and untreated.

For power workers and Type-A personalities, I certainly understand the thrill of the chase. But if left unchecked, the cost may be too high. At some point, the question needs to be asked, "how much is enough?" If stress is a feeling of losing control, depression is a feeling of lost control. That's not a place anybody should be.

Perhaps one of the best ways to eliminate stress is exercise. Even going for a walk gives one a sense of control.

Tyne says that "exercise is a chance for all the sugars and hormones in the bloodstream to be used for their intended purpose." She goes on to say that "exercise also feeds our brains some feel-good drugs such as dopamine and beta-endorphin."

And employers: It's not a line item in the budget, but stress has a huge ripple effect on your business. Please give it some attention.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Heís also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence