Research finds stress is bad for workers, bad for business

Work-related stress has significant costs for worker health and for a business’s bottom line. Three studies looked at stress in the workplace from different angles.

The workplace and health study

A workplace and health study described in the Harvard Gazette reported widespread stress at work, with 43 percent of workers saying their job is bad for their stress, and only 16 percent saying work had a positive impact on their stress levels. Forty-six percent of working women say their job has a bad impact on their stress level, compared to 40 percent of men.

The poll, conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that, “One in five working adults (20 percent) say they have experienced a great deal of stress at work in the past 12 months, while 37 percent have experienced some stress at work.”

Workers facing challenging circumstances, such as workers caring for a sick family member, working 50 or more hours per week or those in self-reported dangerous jobs, were more likely to report that work harmed their stress levels. For the workers who described their job as dangerous, 52 percent say their job had a negative impact on their stress level.

Stress influences workers’ compensation claim frequency and cost

One large study of nearly 17,000 employees across multiple industries examined relationships between employee health risk factors and workers’ compensation claims.

The study by the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health, “Health risk factors as predictors of workers’ compensation claim occurrence and cost ,” was published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Researchers found that workers who experienced stress at work were more likely to experience a workplace injury, and certain sources of stress influenced the overall cost of the workers’ compensation claim.

“Stress at work is predictive of workplace accidents — if you want to prevent workers’ comp claims, you need to look at causes of stress in the work environment,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Natalie Schwatka, in Risk & Insurance .

Mortality and health costs attributed to workplace stress

The third report analyzed 10 sources of stress and their impact on healthcare costs.

Professors Joel Gol, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Stefanos A. Zenios determined that workplace stress contributes to a staggering 120,000 deaths a year and costs from $125 to $190 billion a year in their paper, “The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States.”

The stress factors related to the workplace included lack of health insurance, work-family conflict, job insecurity and high work demands. According to their mathematical model, job insecurity and high work demands each contribute to about 30,000 deaths a year. High demands at work results in an estimated $48 billion in healthcare spending.

The Harvard Business School reported on the results, saying, “All of these numbers point to conclusions that they suspected — that workplace stress is a significant contributor to both health problems and costs.”

When looking at all three studies together, the research paints a picture of just how expensive stress can be, both for workers’ health and for their employers.

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