Extreme job stress affects 40% of workers

Forty percent of American workers suffer severe stress from their jobs, according to a recent survey by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Cincinnati, which recently issued guidelines for dealing with that stress.

NIOSH conducted a survey and found that four out of every 10 U.S. workers describe their jobs as "very or extremely stressful." NIOSH followed up those results with a set of guidelines, Stress . . . at Work, in which the authors say workers suffer serious stress when faced with "job demands that cannot be met, relaxation has turned to exhaustion, and a sense of satisfaction has turned into feelings of stress." That sets the stage for "illness, injury, and job failure."

NIOSH cites these particular conditions that lead to job stress:

  • hectic workloads that ignore workers’ skills and leave them with little sense of control;

  • unpleasant, noisy, or crowded work environments;

  • ongoing job insecurity with little perceived chance of promotion;

  • no worker participation in decision making;

  • isolation in the work environment, with little ability to communicate with other workers;

  • too much responsibility and too many different job functions.

    Those conditions can lead to headache, sleep disturbances, and upset stomach, among a host of other stress-related illnesses, NIOSH says. Stress also can lead to emotional problems, such as low morale and a reduced ability to concentrate, which in turn can hamper job performance.

    NIOSH cautions that an employer’s efforts to increase productivity can have exactly the opposite effect, with the resulting stress leading to increased absenteeism, tardiness, and resignations.

    The booklet offers a three-step approach for preventing stress problems, first by identifying stress factors, then designing and implementing solutions, and finally evaluating the outcomes. NIOSH director Linda Rosenstock, MD, MPH, says the guidelines can be used in any type of workplace to reduce worker stress.

    "Work stress imposes enormous and far-reaching costs on workers’ well-being and corporate profitability," she says. "The good news is that at least some of these costs are avoidable. Research and experience tell us that certain factors such as a heavy workload, conflicting or uncertain job responsibilities, and job insecurity are stressors across organizations. The risk for job stress can be reduced through smart, strategic action."

    NIOSH defines job stress as the harmful, physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of a job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Previous research indicates that a quarter of the American work force consider their jobs the No. 1 stressor in their lives and they see the problem getting worse.