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Stress at Work

What's the Problem?

The ways that work processes are structured and managed, called "work organization", can directly heighten or alleviate workers' on-the-job stress. Recent studies suggest that work organization also may have a broad influence on worker safety and health, and may contribute to occupational injury, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, and even may intensify other occupational health concerns (such as complaints about indoor air quality).

Who's at Risk?

One-fourth to one-third of U.S. workers report high levels of stress at work. Americans spend 8% more time on the job than they did 20 years ago (47 hours per week on average), and 13% also work a second job. Two-fifths (40%) of workers say that their jobs are very stressful, and more than one-fourth (26%) say they are "often burned out or stressed" by their work.

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Can It Be Prevented?

Yes. As widespread corporate and government restructuring continues to have an effect on workers in today's rapidly changing economy, it is important to recognize that stress does not have to be 'just part of the job.' Work stress can be prevented through changes in the work organization and use of stress management, with an emphasis on work organization changes as a primary step.

The Bottom Line

  • Work-related stress is a real problem that can negatively impact health and safety.
  • Identifying stressful aspects of work can help in devising strategies for reducing or eliminating workplace stress. Some strategies include: clearly defining worker roles and responsibilities, improving communication, and making sure workers participate in decisions about their jobs.

Case Example

Theresa is a contract worker in the customer service department of a large company. She is always on the phone because the computer continuously routes calls to her; she never has a moment to herself. She even needs to schedule her bathroom breaks. All day long she listens to complaints from unhappy customers. She tries to be helpful but she can't promise anything without getting her boss's approval. She often feels caught between what the customer wants and company policy. To make matters worse, Theresa's mother's health is deteriorating and she can't even take time off to look after her. Theresa also has health problems of her own, and attributes migraine headaches and high blood pressure to stress at work. Because she is a contract worker, Theresa doesn't have benefits, and has to work a second stressful job to get health insurance. She finally sees her doctor, who recommends she take an extended leave because she is at risk for a possible heart attack, but Theresa doesn't have enough sick leave and can't afford to have her income reduced.

  • Page last reviewed: February 23, 2011
  • Page last updated: February 23, 2011
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