It is a universal truth that almost everyone has experienced stress in their lives. The stress beast can dig its claws into people at work, at home, in their social lives and in their relationships, or while watching headline news about the latest terrorist attack.

The American Institute of Stress reports that “workplace stress is the No. 1 source of stress for American adults.” Although job stress impacts everyone differently, it will affect most employees eventually. Princeton Survey Research Associates says that “Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.” Plus, reports that annual cost to employers in stress related health care and missed work is close to $300 billion dollars.

According to NIOSH, “Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.”

Work-related stress has serious consequences for the safety and health of the employee and for the health of the organization through increased absenteeism, high staff turnover, poor performance, and greater risk of worker injury.

Job stress can wreak havoc

Not all stress is bad. Healthy stress can help people face challenges, stay focused, or provide energy to tackle important projects. Healthy stress can help keep workers alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes. However, when stress becomes overwhelming and excessive, it can negatively interfere with productivity, performance and safety at work.

Some of the physical symptoms of excessive stress include:

  • Insomnia—a double whammy because sleeping issues affect your ability to perform the next day, thereby increasing stress levels and fatigue
  • Stomach problems, nausea, and lack of appetite
  • Muscle tension in neck and lower back and teeth grinding
  • Headaches, including debilitating migraine headaches
  • High blood pressure or racing heart

Some of the emotional symptoms of excessive stress include:

  • Feelings of anger, depression, irritability, helplessness, and anxiousness
  • Short-tempered behavior
  • Lack of confidence in one’s ability and talents
  • Declining mental focus, which can lead to poor safety compliance, increased risk of injury on the job, and impaired decision making
  • Negative outlook for the future

If workplace stress is continuous and becomes chronic, it can lead to cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders, workplace injury and impaired immune function.

10 common job stressors

Because of technological advances, globalization, sensory overload, and the repercussions of the 2008 recession, the nature of work has changed at breakneck speed. Although there are many situations that can lead to stress, here are ten job stressors leading the way in today’s workplace.

  1. The “always on” email and text culture
  2. Corporate downsizing and reorganization, which often requires workers to work more hours or wear too many hats
  3. Lean production schedules and heavy workloads
  4. Lack of family friendly policies
  5. Too many unrealistic “I want it now” deadlines
  6. Job insecurity
  7. Hectic and routine tasks that have little meaning
  8. Unpaid overtime
  9. The nature of the job itself, particularly if the worker has too much responsibility, or too little responsibility for his or her skillset, or is repeatedly exposed to harmful situations
  10. Working conditions, especially if there is too much exposure to noise, harmful chemicals, or risk of injury

How can workers cope better with stress?

As in any problematic situation, denial of the problem leads to more stress. It’s easy to see when a worker is not wearing his hard hat, his face shield, his hi-viz vest, or his hand protection. However, stress is intangible and is often difficult to identify.

Employees must take accountability for their stress by having open and honest discussions with safety professionals.  Another way for workers to combat stress is to share possible solutions with management that would help alleviate the stress, such as an alternative work schedule. Common alternatives include part-time, flextime, compressed workweeks, telecommuting and job-sharing, or requesting to report to a manager whose management style is motivational.

How can organizations help workers?

According to NIOSH, “Recent studies of so-called healthy organizations suggest that policies benefitting worker health also benefit the bottom line.  A healthy organization is defined as one that has low rates of illness, injury, and disability in its workforce and is also competitive in the marketplace.”

What are some of the organizational characteristics that lead to healthy, low-stress work and high levels of productivity?

  • Employee and management training on job stress
  • Open communication about how to eliminate job stressors
  • Recognition for good work performance
  • Career development opportunities
  • A culture that values the individual worker
  • Offering flextime and alternative work schedules
  • Engineering and administrative controls that improve working conditions
  • Implementation of a coordinated and integrated health, wellness, and safety program

How can safety professionals help prevent job stress?

A NIOSH study about workplace injuries reveals “there is a growing concern that stressful working conditions interfere with safe work practices and set the stage for injuries at work.” So today’s safety professional must protect workers from injury and harmful stress that can lead to unsafe work practices. Safety professionals need to bring awareness to upper management and HR about the negative impact stress can have on the safety of employees.

A workplace health and safety program

According to the CDC, a workplace health and safety program is a health promotion activity or organization-wide policy “designed to support healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes while at work.”

These programs can consist of education, medical screenings, on-site fitness programs or access to off-site fitness centers, and on-site safety training programs.

A workplace health and safety program has “the potential to significantly benefit employers, employees, their families, and communities,” says the CDC. “Integrating or coordinating occupational safety and health with health promotion may increase program participation and effectiveness and may also benefit the broader context of work organization and environment.”

If your employer does not yet offer a wellness or health promotion program in conjunction with your safety program, you may want to suggest implementing one. If you need information on how to start a program, visit the CDC website at Once implemented, watch worker morale, productivity, and compliance skyrocket as the stress beast is put back in its cage.