Stress Fighters Needed, Bosses Need To Apply More

Employees today are truly feeling the burn, according to recent reports, and now, the burn is stress-related. KUER is among multiple websites reporting that employees are still showing up to work sick because their stress level would be too high if they remained at home.

“It’s definitely the norm to go into work sick,” Anthony Peeples, a casino bartender in Michigan City, Indiana, said.

Peeples says that stress over trying to get necessities like rent and food paid for is what motivates those in the food service industry, at least, to go to work while sick.

“I don’t think anybody really wants to go out there and get people sick or let alone work when they’re miserable, but you have to,” he said. “Or else you’re not going to be able to pay your electricity or water or your rent.”

Those in the food service industry very rarely get paid sick time, and Laura Brown, a behavioral scientist with the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, reports that at times, it’s stress about leaving co-workers short-staffed or even losing jobs that motivates sick workers to go in when they shouldn’t.

While adults in low-paying jobs tend to go to work while ill more frequently, adults in high paying jobs go to work while sick about half the time. In a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, about 43 percent of the 1,601 United States workers surveyed say they feel stress from their work, and they also believe that their bosses do not care about the level of stress that they might feel as a result. also reports that about half of all medical workers and those who work in food service do continue to go in while sick, and some of the stress in these and other workplaces that are being placed on workers are concerns about exposure to chemicals or other contaminants while on the job.

Part of the stress that employees feel is making them sick may well be the potential for danger some of them feel that they face. Nineteen percent of those surveyed said that they had seen or heard instances of workplace violence in their workplaces against employees. That will, no doubt, be a significant contributor to someone’s stress level.

Of the 43 percent who said that work-related stress was negatively affecting them, 28 percent said their job has a negative impact on their eating habits, 27 percent said their sleep habits were negatively affected, and 22 percent said their weight was negatively affected.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just those in low-paying jobs that were feeling the pain of work-related stress. High-paid workers also said they were negatively affected by stress from their jobs. According to New York Magazine, 43 percent of higher paid workers said they worked at least some of the time during their vacation while only 28 percent of low-paid workers did the same.

There are many offices that do not have health or wellness initiatives to combat work-related stress, but another part of the issue is that when people do have time off, they believe they cannot take all or part of their vacation time, leading to further stress-fuelled complications.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimated in 2014 the cost of work-related stress injuries — a broad statement that could include things like anxiety and depression, among other conditions — in the United States to top out at around $300 billion. Researchers effectively pictured the U.S. economy being comprised with firms of 1,000 employees each and worked out the costs of stress-related issues like absenteeism, counterproductive work performance, and staff turnover in businesses of this size. It was discovered, on average, stress costs $2,770 per employee. That figure was then multiplied by the 108 million total workers in the U.S. at that time to obtain a cost of US$300 billion a year.

While the companies in this example were notional, it would seem that even looking at real companies in the United States can lead to figures in that ball park. This included costs of training and replacement of staff who are on sickness leave or have left the company. Some have argued that now, 20 years after the original estimates of $300 billion, absenteeism and staff turnover rates and their associated expenses have doubled.

No matter how one might work the figures, there is clearly a high cost to stress and workplace-related stress injuries. The question now: What is going to be done?

[Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images]