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Getting stress tough: What network managers can do to help employees

By Linda Christie, M.A.

"Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor-more so than even financial or family problems." -- St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illnesses and injury, defines job stress 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."

Network job conditions that can lead to stress are:
  1. Task design: heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long hours, shift work, and routine tasks that do not utilize the employee's skills and provide little sense of control.
  2. Management style: lack of participation by workers in decision-making, poor communication, lack of family-friendly policies.
  3. Work roles: conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility, too many hats to wear.
  4. Career concerns: job insecurity; lack of opportunity for growth, advancement or promotion; and rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.
  5. Environmental conditions: unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.
In addition to identifying and correcting these stress-producers, Andrew Garman, Director of the Center for Health Care Entrepreneurship at Rush University in Chicago, IL, says managers need to set up mechanisms for people to discuss their stress levels. "Make the time to proactively ask people how they are doing and how their stress levels are, especially when someone leaves or a deadline requires everyone to work overtime."

"Companies can also encourage typically sedentary network professionals to reduce their stress by getting physical exercise," Garman added. "Provide the time and facilities: a walking path, fitness center, or group discounts for health club memberships."

The process for stress prevention requires building an awareness about job stress among the staff, incorporating employee input and involvement to increase their control over the situation, securing management commitment and support for actively addressing stress- causing situations and policies, and providing employees with the resources and support they need to do their jobs.

Additional resources:

"Stress at Work," a NIOSH booklet

An Rx for reducing employee stress

"How to Master Stress"

"Stress" WebMD Health

This was last published in February 2001

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