How workplace stress hurts your bottom line

A stressed out workforce is an environment ripe for an accident
How can you manage burnout in the workplace? (Photo: Benjawan Sittidech, Dreamstime.com)
The World Health Organization recently classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon tied to “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Their new definition does not really classify this “syndrome” as a medical condition, but it does include additional factors that need to be studied, such as energy depletion, exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or criticism related to employees’ jobs, and reduced professional efficacy.

One of the major risk management issues created by workplace stress and burnout is safety. When your employees are stressed out, they don’t worry so much about being safe in their day-to-day work. According to Pinnacol Assurance and the American Institute of Stress, workers who exhibit high levels of stress are 30% more likely to have an on-the-job accident. In fact, more than 60% of job-related workers’ comp accidents are stress-related.

[Related: Employee burnout classified as occupational hazard]

As an employer, what can you do to recognize burnout? Physical signs of stress can include forgetfulness, headaches, dizziness, insomnia and nagging illnesses. According to the American Institute of Stress, nearly 1 million workers a day miss work due to stress-related symptoms. Watch for the following symptoms with your employees such as frequent absences, fatigue and irritability, changes in attitude or lack of motivation, increases in errors or complaints, and decreases in work productivity.

How can you manage burnout in the workplace? According to Pinnacol Assurance, here are six steps you can take:

  1. Release bottled up emotions. Seek healthy outlets such as walking during lunch, quick exercises during breaks or meditation times.
  2. Foster friendships. Create opportunities for employees to get to know co-workers better. Encourage after-hour work dinners or sponsor an employee softball team, for example.
  3. Embrace mindfulness. Advise workers to monitor how they feel and encourage them to seek assistance if needed and not to be afraid to discuss how they feel with others.
  4. Say no. Give employees opportunities to refuse certain work activities that might impair their health, and offer them another activity to do instead. You might even consider offering them mental health days if they need a break.
  5. Decrease “busyness.” Build downtime into work schedules to preserve employee focus, and divvy up employee project responsibilities on occasion to lighten the load.
  6. Set email boundaries. Discuss reasonable timetables for responding to client emails.

[Related: Employee burnout classified as occupational hazard]

Stress and burnout typically aren’t covered by workers’ compensation, primarily because it is difficult to prove that the burnout symptoms are caused by work-related activities and not outside influences. But, as I mentioned earlier in this article, stress is a factor that leads to many on-the-job accidents. Therefore it is very important to take care of symptoms before an accident leads to injury and a new claim on your workers’ compensation policy.

Troy D. Sibelius, FASLA, CIC, CRM, is an executive vice president and client advisor at The Buckner Company. He can be reached at [email protected].

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