IMPACTS OF WORKPLACE STRESS
Today, workplace stress, bullying, harassment and violence are key
issues for Canadians. Awareness of the cost of workplace stress
and related mental health issues grows steadily. In addition to the
cost in suffering when workers become ill, are injured or pass away,
the financial costs of workplace stress to individuals, employers
and society are staggering. Costs to the Canadian economy are
over $51 billion annually, and workplace stress is a central factor,
according to Statistics Canada.
Employee disability leave or time off due to stress is a major
component, as is the cost of recruiting and training replacements
when needed. Stress is also a major factor in injuries, and with
injuries come private insurance costs and workers’ compensation.
Moreover, a growing body of research points to workplace stress
as an important trigger factor in workplace accidents, injuries and
violence, highlighting it further as a major OHS issue.
Given its high cost, managing and reducing stress should be a
priority for ensuring good quality workplaces and productivity.
Good HR and OHS practices are key to this effort.
REDUCING OHS LOSSES: THE MISSING LINK
For over 100 years, governments, employers, unions and others
have worked to reduce OHS losses, resulting in highly evolved
laws, regulations, inspections, training programs and workplace
best practices. Yet, we still see relatively constant OHS costs, and
an increasing rate of workplace deaths in Canada over 20 years
(from 756 to 977 annually). Why should this be so?
Laws are essential – but not enough. OHS losses remain un-changed
largely because laws and policies have not affected the
culture of work. There needs to be a change in workplace culture,
spurred by management and HR.
Where jobs are more stressful, management needs to communi-cate
better, support employees and attempt to reduce stress. In
more typical workplaces, stress can be related to factors such as
organizational changes and staff reductions, especially if poorly
managed. Unreasonable workloads, overtime (a key stress factor),
poor organization of work and poor support for workers can ex-acerbate
Two approaches can reduce stress, OHS injuries and costs:
■■ Address employees’ mental health problems. Managers
can better respond to mental health issues employees bring
to work (such as family issues, etc.) by creating a supportive
environment and making better use of wellness and employee
assistance programs (EAPs).
■■ Mitigate stress created by the workplace. This is
accomplished by keeping workloads reasonable, controlling
overtime and related stress, maximizing respect for all
employees, allowing for flexibility, maximizing employees’ sense
of value and security and (when necessary) implementing lay-offs
BEST PRACTICES FOR HEALTHIER WORKPLACES
The research identified seven best practices to create psycholog-ically
healthy, less stressful workplaces. These all represent areas
where HR managers can lead:
1. Obtain executive support. Support from senior executives and
management bodies was found to be key to the success of many
programs. This could be a written memorandum from CEOs
to managers and staff, affirming the goal of a psychologically
healthy workplace, with an implementation plan.
2. Assess workplace needs. This could involve a workplace
survey (using tools such as the Mental Injuries Toolkit or
Great West Life’s Guarding Minds at Work Survey) to assess
risks such as work overload, overtime, excessive work pressure
or other factors.
3. Build the business case for a psychologically healthy
workplace. The research revealed many instances where junior
managers “carried” the business case to senior management –
showing the costs of sick leave, disability costs and estimated
costs of presenteeism – bringing about significant changes even
in large organizations.
4. Train managers and employees. With training on mental
health, managers and supervisors are better able to assess
employee performance issues and patterns of absence from
work, discuss workplace factors relating to stress, mental health
and job performance and refer employees to their EAPs.
5. Create a “seamless” effort. Workplaces should include
everyone in these efforts – HR professionals, wellness services,
EAPs, bargaining units and joint health and safety committees
( JHSCs) – to ensure broad buy-in and full use of resources.
A key challenge is to broaden the scope of EAP/wellness
health & safety
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48 ❚ OCTOBER 2014 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL