Work stress toll
continues to rise
Globe and Mail: WALLACE IMMEN: Friday, June 2, 2006
The stress of increasingly demanding jobs and invisible
tethering to wireless devices is taking a rising physical toll on Canadian
employees, according to a health study.
Twenty-one per cent of workers experienced physical health problems because
of stress or depression in the past year that were bad enough to make them
want to call in sick, the survey of 1,501 Canadian employees by
Montreal-based pollster SOM for Desjardins Securities found.
But 62 per cent of employees said they continued to work while ill rather
than take time off to recover.
"Unfortunately, the findings show the way people are coping essentially is
not coping," says Dr. Irvin Wolkoff, consulting psychiatrist to Bayview
Community Services in Toronto. "We're talking about things that not only
cause discomfort, but about things that can actually kill people."
Continuing stress elevates levels of hormones that can increase risk of
heart attack, stroke and cancer, and reduce resistance to infection.
Recurring physical problems from stress included: fatigue, cited by 20 per
cent; headaches, 18 per cent; insomnia, 18 per cent; neck or back pains, 13
per cent; and joint or muscle pains, 10 per cent. The remainder included
eating disorders and regular indigestion.
The survey found that on-the-job conflicts with employees or supervisors
were the prime cause of 22 per cent of cases of stress or anxiety, with
another 21 per cent caused by pressure to complete work.
Another 14 per cent said their main stress source was dealing with the
public or customers, 13 per cent cited the fast pace of work, 13 per cent
blamed rising volumes of work and 8 per cent blamed long hours. The rest
cited lack of support from co-workers.
A fear of losing income was the reason that 37 per cent of employees who
worked while sick said they drag themselves into the office. An additional 7
per cent said they feared they'd lose their jobs.
|The other reasons cited for showing up while ill included
fear that work would pile up in their absence (14 per cent); trying to stay
active to forget their illness (14 per cent); feeling their illness was not
serious enough (12 per cent); and it is not acceptable to stay off (6 per
cent). As well, 5 per cent said they felt no one else could do their work
and the same percentage said they show up out of dedication to the job.
The survey found that devices that are supposed to help people cope with
their workloads have only added to them.
The study found 29 per cent of those who use wireless communications or
laptops to work outside the office found it has raised their stress level in
the past year. Another 54 per cent said they feel as stressed being wireless
as they do when chained to their desks. Just 17 per cent said they thought
wireless devices eased their worklife stress.
"It is clear that many people are becoming compulsive about taking their
workload home with them," Dr. Wolkoff says. "This is a frightening finding.
The intent of these devices was to help people do their jobs better and give
them more leisure time to recover from stress."
Employers should be looking at the impact technology is having on employees
and help them cope, because the problems caused by stress and mental illness
are costly and reduce productivity, Alain Chauvette, senior vice-president
of group and business insurance for Desjardins in Montreal, says.
In Canada, stress and mental health problems represent 40 per cent of
long-term disability claims and are responsible for 35 million lost
workdays, according to estimates made last year by the Global Business and
Economic Roundtable on Mental Health.
Stress is also blamed for 40 per cent of employee turnover and 60 per cent
of workplace accidents that lead to time lost from work.
To reverse the trend will mean an attitude change, Dr. Wolkoff says.
"Get off the track of bringing in efficiency experts to tell you how to get
the most out of your staff," he advises employers. "Consider instead that
that they are a valuable asset and look after them and give them the
opportunity to look after themselves if they fall ill."
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