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Strategies for Preventing Job Stress Suggested by NIOSH

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (NIOSH) (202) 260-8519
CDC Press Release: January 5, 1999

A new publication from CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests practical approaches that can be taken by employers and employees to prevent workplace stress.

“Stress … At Work” finds that organizational changes and stress management for employees, with organizational changes given top priority, may be the most effective approach for reducing work stress. The booklet offers a three-step process for preventing stress problems by identifying stress factors in the workplace, designing and implementing solutions, and evaluating the outcome.

“Work stress imposes enormous and far-reaching costs on workers’ well-being and corporate profitability,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H. “The good news is, at least some of these costs are avoidable. Research and experience tell us that certain factors such as heavy workload, conflicting or uncertain job responsibilities and job insecurity are stressors across organizations and that the risk for job stress can be reduced through smart, strategic action.”

Organizational changes may include efforts to ensure that workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources; to design stimulating, meaningful jobs; to define workers’ roles and responsibilities clearly; to give workers opportunity to participate in decisions about their jobs; to improve communications; to provide opportunities for social interaction among workers; and to establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

“The new NIOSH booklet offers employers, human resources personnel, and workers a practical, easy-to-read resource, with real case studies, to help them answer three critical questions: What causes job stress, is there a problem in my workplace, and if so, what can be done to find sensible, meaningful solutions?” added Dr. Rosenstock.

Job stress is defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of a job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Conditions that may lead to stress include heavy workload, lack of participation in decision-making, poor social environment, conflicting or uncertain job expectations, job insecurity or lack of opportunity, and unpleasant or dangerous work environments.

Studies suggest that work stress may increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, psychological disorders, workplace injury, and other health problems. Early warning signs may include headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, job dissatisfaction, and low morale, but sometimes these clues are not apparent.

Stressful working conditions also are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, disability claims, and other factors that reduce a company’s productivity and competitiveness. Studies and surveys indicate that one-fourth of the workforce view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives and that workers widely perceive job stress as being on the rise.

NIOSH and partner organizations from industry, labor, and the health community are pursuing collaborative research on work organization issues, including work stress, under the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). Developed by NIOSH with input and review by more than 500 diverse organizations and individuals, NORA identifies work organization as one of 21 areas in which vigorous collaborative research will do the most to reduce serious and costly occupational injuries and illnesses over the next decade.

Under NORA, NIOSH and the American Psychological Association will sponsor a national conference on March 10-13, 1999, in Baltimore, Md., “Work, Stress, and Health ’99: Organization of Work in a Global Economy.” Further information on the conference is available on the NIOSH home page on the World Wide Web , under “Meetings.”

Copies of “Stress … At Work,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-101, are available by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). For information on NIOSH research on work stress and other health and safety issues, call the information number or visit the NIOSH home page .