Work-related stress claims cost U.S. companies $200 billion to $300 billion a year, according to the American Institute of Stress.
Stress can result in a number of secondary mental and physical illnesses and direct physical injuries, which directly affects health care costs, worker productivity — and can even result in workers’ compensation claims.
In fact, work-related stress workers’ comp claims last about four times longer, at an average of 23 days, than the average days lost from all nonfatal occupational illnesses and injuries combined, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety defines work-related stress as emotional and harmful responses occurring when job requirements don’t match a worker’s resources, needs or capabilities.
Some employers still don’t take work-related stress seriously, but based on the numbers, the consequences and costs for ignoring the issue, you would be wise to.
To combat the effects of work-related stress, you need to know what causes it in the first place.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, the most common workplace stressors are:
- Poorly designed jobs and tasks from heavy workloads; shift work; long working hours; too few or too short rest and meal breaks; and tasks that don’t have inherent meaning or that don’t give the employee a sense of control.
- Job roles, expectations and responsibilities that are too broadly defined, vague, conflicting or unclear.
- Insufficient interpersonal relationships with managers, supervisors and/or co-workers or a poor social environment.
- Poor management skills, including bad communications skills, lack of encouragement or incentives.
- Lack of opportunities for advancement or a lack of job security.
- Poor workplace conditions including inadequate ergonomics, air pollution, noise levels or even dangerous or unpleasant working environments.
Steps to take
If you are able to pinpoint the causes of stress in the workplace, you can take steps to reduce those factors, including:
Improving communications. Try to get your employees involved and let them know they are valued. Ask them for feedback and input on company plans, processes and management decisions.
Giving staff more sense of control. Within responsible and reasonable limits, you should give employees independence in the day-to-day operations of their job. Let them think outside of the box and they may innovate and find a way to do their jobs better and more efficiently.
Creating an open forum. Employees should be free to express their frustrations, concerns and complaints without fear of retaliation from management or supervisory staff.
Keeping employees in the know. Uncertainty can be eliminated by simply apprising employees about upcoming changes and what these changes will mean for them.
Reducing any excessive workloads. Don’t overload your employees beyond their abilities. Try to spread out workloads and don’t pile on too many projects at a time on one person. .
Clearly defining job descriptions. You should make sure that all employees have a thorough understanding of their roles in the company and the responsibilities of their position.
Creating realistic work schedules. Be as flexible and approachable as possible if a staff member needs to take time for a doctor’s appointment or has a sick child. Remember that all of your employees have a life and demands outside of work.
Playing to your employees’ skills. A job should stimulate employees, challenge them and require as many of their skills as possible. Give your staff opportunities like advancement and cross-training if they show the desire to bring more value to their jobs and your organization.
Planning leisure activities. Make sure that you allow your staff to let loose a bit by organizing company picnics, parties or even team sports such as softball league.
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