The High Cost of Stress

This article accompanies Taking the Stress Out of Work

Thursday, September 16, 2010
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Why are companies beginning to spend valuable resources to improve the way work is organized? One reason is the overwhelming evidence on the prevalence of workplace stress in the United States, Europe and around the world.

According to NIOSH, 35 percent of the working population experiences high levels of stress on the job: 13 percent say they find work 'always' stressful and another 22 percent find it 'often' stressful. Research from the APA confirms these data. In a recent national survey, 39 percent of those surveyed said they experienced work stress on a regular basis.

Still, human resource leaders, CFOs and risk managers might well ask, 'How we do know this self-reported stress is hurting our company's financial performance, or even the health and safety of our workforce?'

There are a number of answers to this important question and depression is a good place to start.

Depression touches at least 7 percent to 11 percent of the workforce; NIOSH's Steven Sauter believes it is even more prevalent than these numbers because the stigma of the malady causes under-reporting. The average depressed worker costs his or her employer $3,000 per year, according to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

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And there is a vicious synergistic effect between depression and stress, so when the two are present together costs go through the roof: an additional $2,000 per worker per year, according to Sauter.

He emphasizes that these data refer to stress in general and not necessarily to workplace stress by itself. However, he also notes that a recent review of the literature found that psychosocial demands in the workplace were associated with a doubling of the risks of depression. Moreover, the costs to employers are the same whatever the genesis of the stress.

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