What Should Organizations Do About Workplace Stress?



After a month of torturous itching, Eloise finally saw a doctor for the red circular blotches on her arms. The diagnosis was nummular dermatitis, a rash often brought on by stress. The stress resulted from toiling for long hours as an interim financial manager, her latest consulting gig. Eloise had spent a dozen consecutive 60-hour weeks recreating the work of a fired CFO, juggling unfinished tasks left behind by departed staff and dealing with the demands of impatient auditors. “I got tired of taking one hand off the keyboard every minute to scratch,” she said. Her condition reflected the stress of her financial management responsibilities: “nummular” is Latin for coin-like.


For many who toil in the 21st century workplace, this story has a familiar ring. Stress has become a fact of working life. Much like a session on the Stairmaster, it fires up our cardiovascular systems with adrenaline, gets our hormones pumping and pushes blood to the big muscles that enable us to do heavy lifting. But unlike that hour in the gym, stress can compromise our health. It drives up health-care costs, makes absenteeism worse and turns people into desk-bound zombies.


In survey after survey, about 60% of American workers say work is a significant cause of stress in their lives. Employers are well aware of the health and economic implications of workplace stress. Respondents to the Willis Towers Watson global 2015/2016 [email protected] survey (senior managers in human resources) identified stress as the number one risk – the greatest single threat – to employee health and productivity.


Successful stress-management responses require a systematic approach. The ultimate goal is to focus resources and effort on three categories of action:


  • Modifying environmental stressors – Reducing or eliminating stressors or transforming sources of stress and pressure into opportunities for employee challenge and fulfillment.
  • Changing the employee response to stress – Enhancing employees’ ability to flourish and be productive in the face of seemingly unavoidable stressors inherent in the work environment.
  • Ensuring access to health recovery support – Providing effective treatment for the behavioral health outcomes of stress.


Each element plays a role in a coordinated response to workplace stressors. But they do not carry equal importance. Organizations should give first priority – the initial action, the principal focus, the most resources – to modifying workplace stressors. Improving employees’ responses to stressors and helping people recover from stress-related illness should be secondary and tertiary strategies, respectively.


By: Tom Davenport

Source: worklodes.com