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The Cost of Stress in the Workplace
By Russell White

The impact of stress in the workplace is a staggering $300,000,000!  This is roughly $7,500 per employee, spent annually in the U.S. on stress-related compensation claims, reduced productivity, absenteeism, health insurance costs, direct medical expenses and employee turnover. Just reading that statistic can cause you stress!

Because it doesn’t show up as a line item number in the budget, companies are not addressing this very expensive issue. Time after time I watch companies concerned about improving the bottom line do exactly the opposite of what they should be doing.

Someone decides they need to have fewer employees doing more work for the same pay in order to improve expenses because on paper this looks like a savings, when in fact, that decision is actually increasing expenses! Turnover, production errors, damage to customer relations, and sick leave cost more than what is thought to be saved by these actions.

Depression is the single most frequent cause of sick leave days and with so many short-staffed situations, the burden on the remaining workers is overwhelming, and they just shut down to about ½ of their capability. Today’s new employees are not going to tolerate such managerial actions as their grandparents did.

The top three causes of stress that management have an opportunity to correct and reduce the stress in the workforce:

1. The demands of the job

This is the greatest factor of stress in both managerial and non-managerial employees. Every organization is following the “more from less” strategy to improving the bottom line. Work loads are ever increasing beyond simply technological improvements. Many of these employment decisions are based on a short-term financial number and jobs are left vacant for extended periods of time to save money, putting the extra workload on those employees that didn’t vacate.

Before reducing staff or increasing work loads on your employees, take the time to study the job. I don’t mean study it based on calculations or by “this is what we have to have” analysis. Study the job at the employee level. Watch how people work. See with your own eyes where the increased output opportunity lies. It’s easy to sit in the office of the top floor of the building, look at some reports and determine we can do this with five less people. People are not machines and from my perspective companies do a better job of caring for machine maintenance than people maintenance.

2. The control staff have over how they do their work

Job security has changed in the workplace. When I first entered the workforce, job hopping, being fired or laid-off was a black mark on your career. Today it’s difficult to find a person that hasn’t been “down-sized” or took a new job just before being “down-sized.” There is always a curiosity of when not whether the staff reduction will take place. I wonder if your organization has ever had a rumored shutdown or layoff that grabbed the attention of the workforce. One of my clients even had to call a company-wide meeting to stop the rumors because some of the best workers were leaving for other jobs in a quest for self-preservation. Because the employees were feeling concerned and out of control of their destiny, the bottom line impact for the company was significant. Have had to face that?

In the quest to be perfect in the workplace to aspire to a zero-defects goal, we have taken the personalities out of most jobs and dictate every move of our workforce. It doesn’t matter if the employee can get the same results using a different method – it has to be the same as everyone else. Some places even have protocols of cubical décor (as in no family pictures or children’s artwork.) As an executive, imagine if every phone call you had during the work day had the possibility of being recorded and monitored by your boss. How comfortable do you feel? How much in control of your day do you feel or have you been conditioned to wait on the feedback from the eavesdropping? Thousands of workers live with this very reality.

Look within your company and find the policies and standard procedures that create a lack of control for your employees. I still run into some managers that want a workforce with “strong backs and weak minds” so they will do what they are told and not worry about anything else. This is no longer an acceptable approach to management nor will it create the desired success.
Employee needs to be able to control their own situations and have the authority and responsibility to go with that control. Better training and more experiences create better decision making. Properly train your employees to set them up for success on the job and then let them take control and take the responsibility for delivering that success. You results will be better, your employee growth with be stronger as they grow through mistakes, and their stress levels will reduce thereby giving you a fresher more alert responsible employee.

3. The support they receive from colleagues and superiors

A large number of employees coming into our working ranks grew up in a different home environment than most of us who have been in the working world for a couple of decades. Divorce, single-parent or two full-time income parents are the norm. Studies are showing there is an increased need by children for individual recognition and support because these home environments tends to be chaotic and filled with activity yet devoid in true support. This is why the Millennial generation (born after 1980) enjoys working closely with their friends; they know they will be supported by their colleagues.

What is management doing to support employees in your organization? Support isn’t just a recognition program; it’s a daily event. Supporting growth, development detecting bad habits and putting a stop to them and encouraging those habits you want to be repeated – that’s support. If you’ve ever played competitive athletics you recognize this is typical coaching behavior. There is a reason so many successful athletes have a great relationship with their college coaches – it was a time of development and growth and that particular coach was there to make that happen. That is support.

Look around your workforce. How much stress do you see? I have yet to deliver a program on stress where I don’t have a room full of people looking for answers on how to remove stress from their lives. Look for ways to remove unnecessary stress in the workplace. Your employees will thank you and your bottom line will reflect the positive results of your efforts.

Russell J. White, CSP is an author, international speaker and consultant. He is president of Russell J. White International and founder of The Edgewalk Institute where his cutting edge ideas assist businesses in strategic planning, branding, leadership development and growth strategies. His most requested keynote and forthcoming book “That’s MY job??? Restoring Responsibility in the Workplace” is solving current problems for more profitable futures. He can be reached at or at 877-275-9468

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