Reducing stress can improve productivity and profit
It’s a little six-letter word with a big negative impact on our companies, our jobs, our health and our lives.
In 1996, the World Health Organization called it a “worldwide epidemic.”
Today, it is estimated to cost American companies $300 billion a year in poor performance, absenteeism and health costs, according to Helpguide.org.
It is stress.
The American Institute of Stress says 40 percent of workers report their jobs are very or extremely stressful; three-fourths of employees believe they have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.
“Many of our clients are looking for ways to relieve workplace stress,” said Marra McMillan, coordinator of BaptistWorx, the occupational medicine service at Baptist Health Paducah. “It not only affects their employees’ personal lives, but also hurts their companies.”
Area companies cite low morale, decreased productivity, higher absenteeism, increased healthcare costs, more turnover and serious errors – all caused by stress and all costly to the employer.
Today’s economy is creating additional stress – for employers and for employees. “With rising costs and less profits, managers are stressed and are passing it on to their employees,” said Mike Muscarella, director of rehabilitation services at Baptist Health Paducah. “They need to understand that employees are stressed, too, by higher gas prices and stagnant incomes.”
That stress puts people at risk for serious health concerns. “All of that negative energy takes its toll on the body and mind,” he said. “It strains your heart and vascular system and makes you more susceptible for everything from colds to heart attacks.”
For their own good, individuals should make it a point to try to lessen stress, he said. They can:
- “Eat the frog first,” a reference to tackling the most difficult task first. Muscarella said if you are facing a tough job, do it first in the day when you are fresh. Get it out of the way, and you won’t have to dread it all day. “Don’t procrastinate,” he said.
- Get organized. Even when assignments are most hectic, it helps to take a few minutes to step back and prioritize, file and organize. Clear the clutter, make to-do lists and schedule your time.
- Take a break. A few minutes of meditating, stretching or – better yet – walking can clear the mind and re-energize you for more work.
- Provide your own positive reinforcement. Happy photos of your family, pets or favorite places can help put your job in perspective. Save thank-you and “atta-boy” notes to re-read on “rainy” days when you need a boost.
- Take care of yourself. How you care for yourself away from work can make you happier and more productive at work. Exercise, eat right and rest; and learn to say “no” to outside stressors.
For the good of their company, employers can take steps to reduce stress for their employees. McMillan said BaptistWorx seminars on stress management offer these tips:
- Hire the right people for the right jobs. Putting staff in roles where they are uncomfortable or incapable creates stress for them and for you.
- Consider employee needs when scheduling and establishing rules.
- Encourage employee participation in decisions that affect them.
- Show employees they are valued, praising good work and providing opportunities for career development.
- Improve communication with employees, sharing information that affects their future and defining their roles and responsibilities.
In addition, many of the area’s larger employers, including Baptist Health Paducah, offer Employee Assistance Programs to help workers with personal problems that may affect their job performance. Confidential services can include counseling, workshops or legal/financial assistance. “If your business is not large enough for an EAP,” McMillan said, “perhaps you still can offer a class to help with stress management.”
McMillan said employers also are finding wellness programs help reduce stress. Baptist Health Paducah has partnered with the American Heart Association to provide the Start! walking program to its employees. Area employers can get it free by phoning McMillan at (270) 575-2777.
Recognizing the harmful effects of stress and resolving to minimize it for yourself and those around you will pay off. At work, as in life, it’s all in the attitude, which only you can control. “Be content,” Muscarella said. “Try to think positive and avoid negative-thinking people. Realize no one or no job is perfect, and set realistic goals. Do your best, and be satisfied that it’s good enough.”
Dona Rains is marketing director at Baptist Health Paducah. She previously served as the public relations coordinator at Paducah Public Schools and a writer and editor at The Paducah Sun.