Another reason to stress about stress

‘Mind the Workplace’ report has some eye-opening results


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Most employers realize that it’s to their advantage to assure that their workplace is free of health threats to their employees. Whether it’s the fear of OSHA fines, high workers’ compensation claims or lost productivity, it makes strong business sense to shape the work environment with an eye to health and safety. Can the same be said for psychological threats to health?

A few months ago, Mental Health America released a report following their two-year project with the Faas Foundation about the psychological impacts of the nation’s workplaces. “Mind the Workplace” gives a troubling message to employers and supervisors in large and small organizations alike. It makes the point that workplace stress has both negative health consequences for the employee but also negative business results for the enterprise.

“Mind the Workplace” is an analysis of 17,000 surveys from workers in a wide variety of employment settings. A 20-question online tool was used to assess some of the possible causes of stress on the job and the influence this may have on the person’s health.

Consider a few of the MHA’s results:

 • 81 percent of employees think that job stress affects their relationships with family and friends, at least sometimes.

• 63 percent think that this stress produces unhealthy behaviors like drinking or crying.

• 63 percent think that their workplace is unhelpful or hostile such that they want to work alone.

• 66 percent don’t trust their co-workers or team to support their work activities.

• 17 percent believe that their company appropriately deals with employees who don’t do their job.

Environments of high stress are like psychological petri dishes — they are perfect places to grow nasty things. Depression, for example, can be linked to someone’s disconnection from meaningful relationships, work or values. Similarly, substance abuse is often the first place people turn for inoculation from alienation and relief from toxic stress and the perception that pressures and problems will never let up.

Today, “diseases of despair” (suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse) are the sixth leading cause of death, according to a 2017 report from the Trust for America’s Health.

These workplace phenomena also can have an effect on the entire business.

The MHA report states that 71 percent of respondents spend time thinking about or actively looking for another job, and that same number speak poorly about their company to others. Job stress in the environment causes 79 percent to have concentration difficulties, at least sometimes. Thirty-five percent say they always miss three to five days of work per month due to workplace stress.

Instead of being quick to dismiss “Mind the Workplace,” employers might consider a few steps in their strategic human resource activities:

 • They can read the report at mentalhealthamerica.net and arm themselves with more concepts relevant to promoting the psychological health and engagement of their staff. They might try to use all or some of the survey questions and compare their results to the ones in the report.

 • They may continue to learn about employee engagement and the management practices that create those highly productive workers and teams. Such steps might not cost much but it’s likely that changing the social environment of the workplace stands to bring substantial benefits to everyone. Even a cursory look at the famous Gallup Q12 framework teaches that giving employees clarity, proper tools, opportunities for growth, and some praise and appreciation stands to yield significant returns.

 • While they may not be able to do anything about the job stress that comes with today’s productivity standards, sales quotas, quality metrics or other business necessities, they can identify and ferret out avoidable stress like unfair practices, hostile supervisors, or behaviors that destroy teamwork. They do well to understand that programs like Employee Assistance services or health promotion features at work can do much to mitigate the unavoidable threats that come with work. The expectations of the employer don’t have to be compromised, but an interpersonally toxic workplace is not the only way to achieve them.

Phil Wyzik is CEO of Monadnock Family Services in Keene.

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