Frontline Supervisor: Stress and the Workplace

Frontline Supervisor: Stress and the Workplace

On 9 Dec 2014, in stress, Management, Workplace

Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.

Q. Is there more stress now than 25 or 30 years ago? I don’t think employees cope with stress as well as past generations did. Is this true?

A. The acceleration of technology, rapid communications, competition for resources, greater degrees of financial and retirement insecurity and breakdown of family compared to decades ago has contributed to a “stress epidemic.” It’s a misconception that people can’t handle stress as well as they once did, and as a result, they complain about it more. There will always be people who demonstrate resilience and can cope with stress effectively, but the stress level in a society matches the pace of change society experiences. The pace of change is clearly accelerating and it is also more unpredictable. EAPs play an important role in helping employees and business organizations not just to cope with this stress but also to thrive in spite of it.

Q. My employee complained about stress and mentioned several physical complaints, such as cold sweats, anxiety and indigestion. The employee looked fine, but I recommended BJC EAP. Did I do the right thing? What if it was a heart problem and not stress?

A. Employees sometimes seek help from employee assistance professionals with issues best addressed by medical professionals. In these cases, the EAP relies on medical resources within the community to help employees. Your employee complained about stress, and you followed the policy about referring the employee to BJC EAP. Barring an obvious or potential emergency, a referral to another resource based on your determination about what might have been the true ailment would have been outside your role. Health conditions ranging from high blood pressure to rashes to headaches to sleeplessness often present in EAP offices. They require proper medical assessment. Sometimes these problems combine with other physical, emotional or environmental issues that benefit from EAP involvement.

Q. Is all the talk we hear about workplace stress overblown, or is there something to it? After all, the workplace has always been stressful. Things should be better with all the technology options, right? What does the research say? Is there anything new to report?

A. According to a recent study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, an international consulting firm, workplace stress is the most frequently cited reason U.S. employees consider leaving their jobs. Employers acknowledge that stress is affecting business performance, but few reportedly are doing much about it. Nearly half of U.S. employers (48 percent) say stress caused by working long hours is affecting business performance. However, only 5 percent are addressing this concern. Similarly, more than one-quarter (29 percent) of employers believe stress caused by widespread use of technology such as cell phones and personal digital assistants is greatly affecting business performance, but only 6 percent are taking action to confront the issue. By not intervening with stress, employers invite an increase in unscheduled time off, absence rates and health care costs — all of which hurt a company’s bottom line.

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