Are We Endangered by the Stress Epidemic?

All of us can feel that our society is becoming strongly focused on performance and achievements. We are required to be more competitive and able to withstand everyday challenges not only in our work life, but also in our personal lives. As one of the results, stress has become the symptom of our times and “I’m stressed,” is a line heard almost every day.

Before we label stress as an exclusively negative factor, it’s good to realize that by definition, stress is the body’s natural response to any pressure. At a certain level, stress can work as a motivational factor and help people achieve better results.

However, disproportionate chronic stress is a big health risk. Professional publications are even introducing a theory that the so-called “stress epidemic” is a threat to our society. That’s because unresolved excessive stress causes anxiety, tension and irritability; moreover, unaddressed chronic stress can result in desperation and the cultivation of serious mental disorders. Naturally, stress can also affect people physically – it can damage the immune, central nervous or gastrointestinal systems.

 

How Much Does Stress Cost?

Stress affects both our professional and personal lives. Data collected by international studies show a disturbing trend: across Europe, the treatment of mental health disorders annually costs 240 billion EUR. Less than 50% of this amount represents the direct costs of professional treatment, with remaining 136 billion EUR covering the loss of productivity including absence due to incapacity for work.

Stress is the second most cited work-related health issue in Europe. According to the same study, 50 – 60% of all absences can be attributed to stress. In Czech Republic, the situation doesn’t look any better. According to a study done by Department of Psychiatry at First Faculty of Medicine of Charles University and General University Hospital in Prague, 34 % people stated that they feel threatened by occupational burnout – a syndrome largely cultivated by stress.

Societal significance of the impacts of work-related stress is further demonstrated by the fact that the topic will be soon covered by the Czech legislation. According to the planned amendment to Act No. 262/2006 Coll. of the Labor Code, employers will be obligated to prevent the risks of work-related stress.

 

How to Prevent Stress?

It is established that stress and its negative effects currently appear to be a big problem with reference to work effectiveness and maintaining organizational productivity. How can companies protect themselves? What tools have the responsible people (managers, HR) at their disposal to help them reduce work-related stress?

The amount of general advice and tools for dealing with this problem exceeds the scope of this article. However, the Employee Assistance program can be considered a very effective one. Not much known in Czech Republic, the program is widely used in USA with 90 % of the companies named in “Fortune Global 500” subscribed to it. Through the Employee Assistance, companies provide their employees with a work benefit in the form of anonymous psychological, legal and economic consultancy free of charge. This service is proving to be an effective tool for prevention and reduction of stress and its undesirable effects.

As evidenced above, any responsible company will have to address this issue if they want to meet both legislative requirements and work effectively with its employees. Although stress is becoming a societal issue, it can be also perceived as a challenge. We can choose to view stress as an incentive to think about the improvement of working conditions, company culture and employee satisfaction as a whole.

 

Mgr. Marek Řápek - Consultant and Employee Assistance Program Guarantor

Sources:

Kalia, M. (2002) Assessing the Economic Impact of Stress—The Modern Day Hidden Epidemic. Metabolism, 51, 49-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1053/meta.2002.33193

Ekonomické důvody řízení stresu a psychosociálních rizik [online]. Evropská agentura pro bezpečnost a ochranu zdraví při práci, 2014. Dostupné z www: <https://www.healthy-workplaces.eu/cs/stress-and-psychosocial-risks/the-business-case>.

Stres, deprese a životní styl v České republice [online]. Psychiatrická klinika 1. LF UK a VFN v Praze. 2014. Dostupné z www: < http://www.lf1.cuni.cz/stres-deprese-a-zivotni-styl-v-cr-lf1>.

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