Workplace stress at all-time high - East Valley Tribune: Health

Workplace stress at all-time high

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Posted: Friday, April 20, 2012 7:41 am | Updated: 10:19 pm, Fri Apr 20, 2012.

Increased responsibilities, job insecurities and economic worries are driving more employees to high stress levels, according surveys done in the last decade.

Given that seven out of 10 Americans reported to American Psychological Association that their workplace has put cuts, furloughs and wage freezes in place in the last year — fear and stress may be at an all-time high. But because of that fear of job loss, fewer workers are taking the time to care for themselves, local health officials said, even when the stress levels are leading to anxiety and depression.

Chip Coffey, director of therapy services for St. Luke’s Behavioral Health, said he’s seeing an increase in the number of people coming in for treatment, but they don’t stay for long.

“More and more people are coming here for treatment,” he said. “But they’re wanting to not do extensive outpatient treatment or partial hospitalization because they’re so stressed to get back to work right away because they’re worried they’ll be replaced or fired.”

Compounded by the stress, depression may set in. And, according to the Journal of American Medical Association, depression costs $44 billion in lost productivity every year in America, making it the single-most expensive ailment for employers.

And men are seriously seeing issues, according to the Family and Work Institute. Its 2011 study found that job demands and longer work hours are creating more “work-family conflict” for men, especially in those from dual-income families.

Coffey said the fears about employment status are leading workers to put their workplace ahead of their health.

“Even my PCP (primary care physician) said a year ago he had people he wanted to go in for cardiac issues but they said, ‘Not if I have to take a day off work,’” Coffey said. “I don’t see that it’s been justified. I’ve not had reports back of people being fired for taking time off for true medical needs, including mental health needs.

“The economy is starting to improve some. People are starting to feel more stable. But there is some resistance, especially around the mental health care. People don’t want (employers) to know what they’re in for.”

Some local companies, hoping to stop stress before it gets to unhealthy levels, are making efforts to improve the workplace with afternoons off for employee outings or massages. Some even have company dogs.

Tempe-based public relations firm Zion and Zion closed down its offices late Wednesday afternoon to take its 30 employees bowling to mark a few birthdays, said Ashley Oakes, account executive.

The company, whose clients come from a variety of sectors including home improvement, technology, solar, business-to-business and more, brings in a massage therapist about every other month, Oakes said.

And when she needs a break, Oakes walks out of her office and into the main area to play fetch with Jabhar, the company dog, who arrives with owners Aric and DuGué Zion every day.

“Both owners came from Fortune 500 companies. Aric and DuGué feel it’s a way to give back to their employees. An agency life is a stressful environment. It helps everyone clear their minds, feel better and relax,” Oakes said of the company efforts to reduce stress.

Taking breaks and finding joy are good stress releasers, St. Luke’s Coffey said.

Besides taking breaks, workers should prioritize tasks, recognize when they have too much to accomplish and note their mental status.

“I work with my staff all the time, just on their own practice of mindfulness, learning to calm themselves down,” he said.

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