Dr. Novick was recently featured in the leading story of HR Wire Magazine titled, “Is Your Company Ignoring Workplace Stress” by Paula Santonocito. This publication is the premier resource for H.R. personal worldwide.
Is Your Company Ignoring Workplace Stress?
If so, it isn’t alone. Research shows that although many companies recognize workplace stress is an issue, few do anything about it.
What surveys find
Two studies from Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a leading global consulting firm, find stress has significant impact on the workplace.
Nearly half of all surveyed U.S. employers, 48 percent, say stress caused by working long hours and doing more with less is affecting business performance. Yet, only 5 percent are addressing this concern, according to Watson Wyatt’s 2007/2008 Staying@Work report.
By the same token, more than one-quarter of employers, 29 percent, indicate widespread use of technology that expands availability, such as cell phones and personal digital assistants, is a cause of employee stress that impacts business performance. However, only 6 percent are taking strong action.
In addition, managers’ inability to recognize stress comes into play. Twenty-four (24) percent of employers indicate this is an issue at their organizations. But only 7 percent are doing anything about it.
Watson Wyatt points out that one of the ways stress affects business performance is through employee retention. And work-related stress does indeed motivate people to look for alternative employment.
Stress is the most frequently cited reason U.S. workers give for why they would leave a company, according to Watson Wyatt’s 2007/2008 Global Strategic Rewards report. Forty (40) percent of respondents say it is one of their top three reasons.
Nevertheless, the same report shows employers don’t see the correlation between stress and retention. Employers fail to list stress among the top reasons they think workers leave their jobs. Instead, employers cite insufficient pay, lack of career development, and poor supervisor relationships.
So what is it about workplace stress that keeps it off the employer radar screen?
“Oftentimes employers won’t address issues until it becomes a liability for them,” says Ari Novick, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and owner of AJ Novick Group, a leading national provider of anger and stress management training.
There’s another factor that makes stress difficult to address. “Stress is an intangible,” Novick says. An employee may say, “I feel stressed,” but unless that stress affects the workplace in a tangible way employers tend to overlook it.
“Employers don’t start addressing the issue until it becomes a problem. They’re not as proactive as they should be,” Novick tells HRWire.
Inaction on the part of employers can lead to psychological and/or physical problems for employees, which in turn can impact business results.
Today, there are more potential work-related stressors. As Watson Wyatt study findings show, availability is a big one.
“When you’re accessible literally 24 hours a day that can be nerve-wracking,” Novick says.
Yet, in a lot of companies, ongoing availability has become part of the culture.
For employees, the issue is difficult to address. If an employee says s/he doesn’t want to be reached, it may lead to a negative perception.
“The employer needs to create better boundaries. It’s not up to the employee to create them,” Novick says.
Constant availability doesn’t allow a person to have a balanced life, which in turn can lead to stress. Novick cites the movie, “The Devil Wears Prada” as an example. “In that movie we saw exactly how stress can erode the human spirit,” he tells HRWire.
Corporate culture plays a major role in workplace stress, but so does American culture. If you look at other countries and the way they value time off and time with family, and you compare vacation time and time away from work, the United States, for all its greatness, is clearly lacking, Novick says.
Still another factor that contributes to workplace stress is something simple that’s overlooked: everyone’s coping skills for managing stress are different.
Stress is a disconnect between the demands in life and resources to meet those demands, Novick explains. And a stressor for one person isn’t necessarily a stressor for another.
That’s why some people can maintain these high-stress environments, he says; their coping skills for stress are different. Therefore, employers shouldn’t expect that everyone can manage the same amount of stress.
In addition, Novick points out, “Everyone has different variables that employers aren’t aware of.”
Still, whether or not employees have a high tolerance for stress, Novick says everyone has a breaking point.
How will employers know when that point has been reached? “Look for employees who are vocalizing their discontent or their stress,” Novick advises. “Most people will verbalize it.”
However, there are some employees who will internalize stress, and Novick cautions that this can be especially problematic. If an employee internalizes stress and gets to a breaking point and lashes out, it can lead to another liability issue. “You can create a dangerous work environment,” he says.
Although stress isn’t contagious per se, it can have an adverse effect on morale and infect the workplace.
“Typically when people are stressed out they may be short-tempered, sleep-deprived, agitated or anxious. They can be very difficult to be around,” Novick says.
Because stress is a person’s perception of his/her environment, stressed out co-workers can essentially contribute to the stress of other staff members.
Morale, health care costs, productivity. They’re all bottom-line issues and still employers often look the other way when it comes to stress.
“Stress is a feeling that is hard to prove,” Novick says.
Physiologically and psychologically stress can take a toll. But unless an employee is diagnosed with stress-related high blood pressure or other illness employers tend not to react to stress.
Still, stress in the workplace is an issue, and it appears to be widespread, as Watson Wyatt’s studies show. The majority of referrals Novick gets from employers also typically have something to do with stress.
Novick finds it is only the more progressive companies that are addressing stress on a proactive basis. Interestingly, a lot of the companies that do so are smaller employers. Novick says he believes that in smaller companies it’s easier to see when there is an issue.
Regardless of company size, Novick recommends a proactive approach to stress management, whether it’s a stress management workshop or executive coaching.
“You’ve now given your executive or employee some incredible coping skills. And the cost is nothing compared to lost productivity or losing the employee altogether,” Novick says.
Contact: Ari Novick, Ph.D., licensed psychotherapist and owner AJ Novick Group, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online: Watson Wyatt Worldwide, Staying@Work report, http://www.watsonwyatt.com/research/resrender.asp?id=2007-US-0216&page=1; Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 2007/2008 Global Strategic Rewards report, http://www.watsonwyatt.com/research/resrender.asp?id=2007-US-0164&page=1; AJ Novick Group, stress management information, training, and coaching, http://www.ajnovickgroup.com.