USA Today

Mounting stress in the workplace is reaching burnout levels for some as more workers report feeling unable to keep up with the demands of their jobs. The rise in stress — driven by mounting unemployment, leaner workplaces and a jobless recovery — could pose a bottom-line threat to companies as workers suffer more mental and physical health problems related to job pressure, experts say.

Chicago-based employee assistance provider ComPsych saw a 23 per cent increase in crisis- and stress-counselling requests from client companies in the first quarter of 2003 compared with the first quarter of 2002. Nearly 30 per cent were because of worker anxiety and terminations.

Nearly 35 per cent of workers say they’ve seen an increase in anxiety and stress-related physical ailments in their workplace in the last year, according to a survey by The Marlin Co, a North Haven, Connecticut-based workplace communications firm. Twenty-seven per cent report a rise in emotional problems such as insomnia and depression.

The impact

• Stress-busting corporate programmes. Companies are trying to help workers cope with job-related tension. At AstraZeneca, a Wilmington, Delaware-based pharmaceutical company, a form of meditation called Qi Gong has been introduced. Classes take place at regular department meetings, including a pre-meeting meditation and — instead of a coffee break — there is an afternoon energy break with Qi Gong and tea.

One reason for the attention:

Human-resources experts say

employees exposed to stresses such as layoffs are more likely to engage in violent behaviour.

• Mounting health care costs. Employees who worry about losing their jobs were less safety motivated and had more injuries, according to a study of 237 food-processing plant employees by psychologists at Washington State University-Vancouver.

A survey, through the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, of more than 2,000 workers found ongoing work stress and long hours had a negative effect on physical and mental health.

After Steve Braman put his company, Sunshine Farms Poultry, into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001, he suffered a blood clot and heart trouble.

“It was all stress related. I went from being content financially to selling my home,” says Braman, who is now a food broker. “It was more stressful than when I was on Wall Street.”

• Lowered morale. “It surfaces in morale, which has a tremendous

impact on how hard (employees) work,” says Carol Kauffman, a psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. “They work more but less effectively.”