Stress Management

By Nighswonger, Todd | Occupational Hazards, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Stress Management


Nighswonger, Todd, Occupational Hazards


Finding and reducing stress is at the heart of ensuring a healthy, safe and productive worker.

What should be an organization's role in stress management?

"Stress management is not just having the employer put on stress management programs to help individual employees better manage their problems. It is looking at the employer, its practices and the culture as a factor in contributing to an employee's ability to cope positively with stress.

"Why is it important that workplaces take note of organizational issues and the stress of its employees? If you focus only on individual stress management techniques and ignore the workplace, we (SmithKline's corporate medical group) look at that as putting a clean fish back in a dirty pond.

"There are some linkages between an individual's personal health and short-term disabilities (STDs) and workers' compensation. An individual's mental health, as a component of his or her overall health, can impact a company's workers' comp and STD experience.

"If safety managers think about stress management from a broader perspective -- not just OSHA and workers' comp costs, but disability and absenteeism -- that may put more power behind their arguments that the company should focus on this issue." -- Ann E. Kuhuen, M.D, M.P.H., medical director, SmithKline Beecham, Philadelphia

"Attention should be focused on the workplace as a potential source of stress that can contribute to hypertension and coronary heart disease. As such, there are four important psychosocial exposures that impact a person's cardiovascular system.

"One is threat-avoidance vigilant work. This is important for workplace hazards. Wherever people have to be vigilant, that's distressful to the physiological system. It's where people have to stay constantly alert, where any momentary letdown can result in an accident or an injury. The second is job strain, which most often is seen in work that is high in demand and low in control. Third is effort reward imbalance, where people put a lot of effort into their jobs, but perceive that they don't get an adequate amount of rewards. Fourth, negative social support from your supervisor and co-workers can make job strain conditions worse.

"There are three areas of intervention: cut workload, increase control or enhance social support. One area of the workload is conflicting demands from supervisors. One way to improve the demand part of the equation is to have clarification of job responsibility.

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