Published January 2001

Employers can take steps
to reduce workplace stress

It may seem strange, but aside from sleeping, people spend more time working than any other human activity. This is especially true today in an industrial society that has lost sight of the effect the workplace can have on personal health.

According to Wellness Councils of America, the typical American now works 47 hours a week — 164 more hours a year than 20 years ago. With increased pressures to perform in a highly competitive marketplace, employees are feeling the effects physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In a recent nationwide poll, 78 percent of Americans described their jobs as stressful.

Here are just a few points that support this survey data:

  • In a recent study of more than 46,000 workers at several major U.S. companies, employees who reported being depressed or under stress were likely to incur significantly higher health-care costs than co-workers without such conditions.
  • The National Safety Council estimates that 1 million employees are absent on an average workday because of stress-related problems.
  • Excessive job stress costs the nation $200 billion to $300 billion annually.

Although stress or stress-related disorders can dramatically affect the work force and employers, the good news is that in many work settings, this health issue can be addressed through effective stress-reduction strategies.

Although the corporate culture may create some of these stressors, there are steps employers can take to help their work force. Below are some ideas to reduce the level of workplace stress:

  • Provide employees an opportunity to complete a lifestyle questionnaire or health assessment. Based on the aggregate results, employers are able to better understand the health issues their employees may have and services that can best address those issues.
  • On-site massage. There are many providers that offer on-site massage.
  • Promote and use existing Employee Assistance Program services. EAP often is an underused employee benefit.
  • Start a wellness program that is focused on stress-related issues.
  • Offer an on-site stress-management program that includes a series of stress/humor classes.
  • Provide monthly employee activities that promote fun and laughter. These could include corporate games, fitness memberships, humor bulletin boards, etc.

Regardless of the approach used to address stress in the workplace, the first step is acknowledging its presence. The next step is to provide resources/services to help impact the effects of stress. In most cases, both the employee and the employer will benefit from these efforts.

Ron Burt, M.Ed., is the Manager of Prevention Services at Providence Everett Medical Center. If you have a question you’d like answered in this column, send them to Ron Burt, Prevention Services, Providence Everett Medical Center, P.O. Box 1147, Everett, WA 98206 or e-mail to

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