Study: Stressed Workers Can Be Sick Workers

August 11, 2003 ( - Workplace stress directly influences worker safety and health, a new research report asserts.

According to the report, Stress at Work, from the federal government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), stress can take a physical toll on employees – particularly with employees suffering from cardiovascular disease, musculosketal disorders (particularly back problems), and psychological disorders (particularly depression).

Stressed-out employees are more likely to suffer on-the-job injuries and could be more in line for suicide, cancer, ulcers and an impaired immune function, the NIOSH report said. The report cites a Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine study that found health-care expenditures are nearly 50% higher for stressed out workers.

Possible tipoffs of a stressed out worker often include: headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, short temper, upset stomach, job dissatisfaction, and low morale.

“Stress sets off an alarm in the brain, which responds by preparing the body for defensive action,” the NISOH report asserted. “The nervous system is aroused and hormones are released to sharpen the senses, quicken the pulse, deepen respiration and tense the muscles.”

Workplace Stress Factors

NIOSH listed potentially stressful job conditions:

  • a lack of participation by workers in company decision making, sometimes worsened by poor internal communications
  • a poor social environment with a lack of support from coworkers and supervisors
  • conflicting or uncertain job expectations
  • job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth
  • unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, or air pollution.

“When stressful situations go unresolved, the body is kept in a constant state of activation, which increases the rate of wear and tear to biological systems,” the NIOSH researchers wrote. “Ultimately fatigue or damage results, and the ability of the body to repair and defend itself can become seriously compromised. As a result, the risk of injury or disease escalates.”

Steering Clear of Stress

NIOSH also provided a series of recommendations about how to avoid workplace stress:

  • ensure the workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources
  • clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities
  • give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs
  • improve internal communications.

A copy of the report is available at .