Posted on: November 7, 2011 Posted by: Comments: 0

The cost of workplace stress in terms of safety, health, quality and productivity is phenomenal, and the direct link is proven by occupational medicine.

It is estimated that 60% to 90% of medical visits are stress related. The University of Pittsburgh has found that stress increases the likelihood of physical injury. Chronic stress diminishes human immune systems and impacts life expectancy.

Employers have to replace workers who die prematurely. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has suggested that it is 50% more expensive to treat somebody for a physical injury if they are also experiencing significant stressors.

n the majority of compensation jurisdictions, stress claims make up the smallest percentage, yet are the most expensive to treat and rehabilitate.

Some managers still believe that ‘No one has said they have been victimised or harassed in my workplace, so we are OK. We have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that looks after those things, so I’m OK. No Workman’s Comp claims here, so I’m OK. This is a tough job for tough people. It doesn’t seem to be costing us any money, so what’s this ‘fluff’ about.’

All of the above could be a significant error of judgement, and not for obvious reasons. When a worker is stressed, for whatever reason, there is an almost immeasurable range of impacts on the person, family, job and team.

For the most part though you do not see the impact of various stresses and strains on your people. Do not make the mistake of denying this as a “fluff issue”. With the current weight of evidence that would be similar to still thinking the world is flat.

What we have is what has been called a “hidden disease” or “invisible illness”. In respect of our workplaces I often use the term “working wounded’. Up to 70% are coming to work and “attending”. I would offer the counter position though; they are NOT “attending” in a psycho-behavioural sense – no that is not deliberate psycho-babble, allow me to elaborate.

When we are required to function within any environment we also require an ability to “attend”. That is not just turning up! Despite what many people might think. You might think of this “attendance” as ability to “focus”, “concentrate”.

So what is it that gets in the way of our ability to “attend”; anything that gets in the way of our optimal cognitive functioning. Now let us not get carried away here! All of us, from time to time, have issues going on that may, for some periods of time, impact our abilities to concentrate and focus upon the task at hand.

The salient point here though is these are temporary scenarios. They still expose us to greater risk, although we survive with the belief that these periods shall pass. What we are seeing though is that for many of us there is a greater likelihood that these periods are remaining for longer, and thus impacting us, and those around us, for longer. Is it any wonder that we find poor decisions being made – both at corporate an operator levels.

We know that when we are not “attending” we are less likely to see and appreciate what is going on around us. We are certainly less likely to understand and appreciate the communication going on around us. We are far more likely to make errors; sometimes the very simplest of them.

These errors seem to fit neatly into a causal chain that is identified after major workplace disasters, or after somebody slipping down the stairs. Investigations like to neatly explain causation, like ‘they were having difficulty with a range of work tasks, those around them were also stressed and thus too busy to worry about their colleague (they were concerned about their own psych behavioural survival), attention was focused internally on whether they really were going to deliver on time and on budget, and ouch, one of them did not see the bottom step or some other slips or trips.’ Or flicked the wrong switches, or sent the wrong signals.

These scenarios happen regularly at almost all of our workplaces. We choose to ignore it. This sort of stuff costs our workplaces in emotional and productive terms, more than any other single issue. Yet we still choose to ignore it!

Again this is not a touchy feely issue. It is a hard nosed business hazard that demands attention. Anything less is blatantly irresponsible. Hard language but we answer to owners and shareholders, do we not?

The first step into any analysis of the likely impacts of these issues is to conduct an organisational pulse survey to quantify the issues. Consider that your workplace, which really is just a collection of people, is infected. You have to diagnose correctly to remove stressors, and treat those ‘infected’.

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