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by Audra Jenkins, PHR and Kimberlee Ullner, Esq. | March 31, 2009

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Have you noticed an increase in workplace accidents, productivity, or lost time? Have your employees been complaining of back pain, sleeplessness, or impaired concentration? What you may be seeing are the physical manifestations of workplace stress. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that approximately 25% of workers feel their job is stressful. And that number is probably low. As employers rely more and more on existing workforces to meet increasing production deadlines and goals, employee workloads and stress levels continue to increase.

This leads to an increase in employees who seek reasonable accommodations from employers to help reduce stress and deal with psychological disabilities, the most common of which is depression. Although stress is not, in and of itself, a mental impairment or disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it may be related or linked to psychological impairments or disabilities. Although employers may not be legally required to reduce stress in the workplace, they may be wise to do so anyway.

According to WebMD, employees suffer from "additional stressors, including long hours, time away from home and family, office politics and conflicts between workers, wages not commensurate with levels of responsibility and - in this competitive society -- unrelenting and unreasonable demands for performance."

There are other contributors... read on!~

Other contributors include:
* Job insecurity,
* Unclear job responsibilities,
* Lack of control; and
* Technology.

Stress can show itself in many ways, including the following:
* Absenteeism;
* Employee drug and alcohol use;
* Depression;
* Anxiety;
* Burnout; and
* Workplace violence

There are many ways to reduce stress in the workplace. Offering employees employee assistance programs (EAP) is one common alternative. EAPs are usually run by third-party providers and can offer employees confidential counseling over the phone, or in person, for a short period of time (usually 1-8 visits with a licensed social worker or other therapist). EAPs also provide employees with referrals for more long-term care, or referrals for employees who need legal assistance, assistance with child or elderly care issues, and other non-work related concerns.

EAPs can provide all of these services at no cost to the employee and without revealing to the employer the identities of employees that utilize their services. Because of the stigma still associated with mental disabilities, this is key advantage over offering these types of services in-house.

Flexible Spending accounts (FSA), special accounts set up by the employer, can also provide employees with options to help them pay for child or elderly care. Offering these types of benefits can greatly enhance employees' lives, in addition to helping companies' bottom lines.

Should employers be held responsible for workers' stress? Some experts say yes. Treating workplace-related stress benefits the employer as well as the employee and impacts the most important place of all - the bottom line. Take the time to implement the following tips and you'll see the return on your investment almost immediately.

Options, options, options... read on!~

Work/Life Balance - Offer work/life HR initiatives such as flextime, job sharing, job rotation, and work teams.

Employee empowerment - An empowered work environment reduces stress by allowing employees to take ownership of their work by being able to make decisions without going through multiple levels of approval.

Train employees and clarify tasks and roles - Define empowerment. Train employees to take ownership of their work, and delegate responsibilities. Reinforce and encourage accountability, risk taking, and change

Recognize and reward improvement - This helps employees feel more competent, influential, and knowledgeable. As employees come to understand their jobs, they will see that all contributions are important no matter how small.

Break down communication barriers -- Share company information with employees -let them know how the company is doing, and how their work impacts the big picture. Solicit and give feedback regularly.

How do you eliminate stress in the workplace? Discuss it on the EmployerVault Employee Relations Message Board.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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