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Working through stress

Harriet Hagestad -- Had a headache or upset stomach lately? Trouble sleeping? Morale low? Energy waning? Check with your physician with any changes in your health patterns, but you may find that these symptoms are stress related.

Keeping workers healthy is at the forefront of issues concerning executives, according to a recent survey conducted by The Disney Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Rippe Health Assessment for the "Corporate American Health Summit 2000." In the next five to ten years, heart disease, stress and depression will have a big impact on the effectiveness of American workers. But aside from quitting your job, what can the average Joe do to impact a healthier workplace? A start might be to recognize the signs of a stressful environment.

Experts at the federal government's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have issued a publication outlining the warning signs of job stress.

According to the authors of "Stress ... at Work," serious job stress occurs when occupational challenges become "job demands that cannot be met, relaxation has turned to exhaustion, and a sense of satisfaction has turned into feelings of stress." "In short," they say, "the stage is set for illness, injury, and job failure."

What are the warning signs that you're stuck in a stressful work environment? NIOSH issues six 'warning signs' that can have serious, negative consequences on worker health and well being.

* ...hectic workloads that ignore worker's skills and leave them with little sense of control
* ...a lack of participation by workers in decision-making
* isolating work environment that discourages communication between workers
* ...too much responsibility, too many "hats to wear"
* ...ongoing job insecurity with little perceived chance of promotion
* ...Unpleasant, noisy or crowded work environments

In a similar study on stress, but with some answers about how to manage it, Dr. Kenneth Pelletier and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine had their findings published in the April 1999 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. These researchers found that company-sponsored stress management programs have a lasting effect on the physical and emotional impact of job strain. The Stanford researchers defined job strain as high workplace demand combined with low worker decision-making power, which has been linked to increased cardiovascular disease.

Pelletier's team initiated an eight-week mailed or telephoned stress-management program with a group of employees of a major U.S. Bank. The employees, mostly lower-management with salaries under $40,000, showed significant improvement in mental health from those who didn't take part in the program. The telephone (intervention) group showed the highest level of improvement with the mail group being second.

Potential hires and long time employees alike might consider adding a stress management program to the litany of perks they seek during the hiring process or review meeting. Companies are anxious to provide incentives for both new talent and valuable employees they wish to retain. Getting the job is only half the battle. Staying at the top of your game is a necessary ingredient for career success.

Harriet Hagestad is a professional career coach, educator, and writer.

© 2003

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