Three out of every four American workers describe their work as stressful. And the problem is not limited to these shores. In fact, occupational stress has been defined as a “global epidemic” by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.
While the physical effects of this epidemic are often emphasized, the economic consequences also are alarming. Workplace stress costs U.S. employers an estimated $300 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses. Considering this, stress management may be business’s most important challenge of the 21st century.
Sources of stress vary tremendously. For factory workers, stress often is related directly to the work situation, such as dealing with dangerous heavy equipment or working in an uncomfortable environment. In contrast, office workers are more likely to experience stress related to inter-personal relationships on the job. “People pressures” such as unclear supervision, tension among team members and fear or aversion of conflict can cause stress.
Sixty percent of lost workdays each year can be attributed to stress. In addition, an estimated 75 to 90 percent of visits to health care providers are due to stress-related conditions, costing employers in increased health care costs. A list of physical and psychological warning signs of stress exhaustion appears on this page. Stress also can have a direct effect on the way people handle their jobs. Employees under stress may make more mistakes, have trouble concentrating, become disorganized, become angry or just stop caring about their work. The Wall Street Journal reported that one third of people surveyed considered quitting their jobs because of stress and 14 percent actually did.