Transforming a high-stress work environment into a culture of health

Look around your organization. Are your employees and managers:

  • Jumping from meeting to meeting, racing through their days?
  • Eating lunch at their desks and taking few breaks?
  • Rarely taking vacations?
  • Answering emails on nights, weekends and holidays?

These may be symptoms of a stressful work culture. And that’s something you want to address.

RuthKenzelmann100x100Chronic stress has been associated with depression and maladaptive behaviors such as smoking and substance abuse. Being stressed also has biological effects, which can lead to heart disease.1 The impact of stress is huge (and notable in April, which is National Stress Awareness Month):

  • $200 billion to $300 billion annually in lost productivity
  • 60 percent to 80 percent of accidents on the job blamed on stress-related distraction or sleepiness
  • 1 million workers miss work each day due to stress, at a cost of $600 per employee per year
  • 46 percent higher health care costs for workers who report they are stressed compared to non-stressed employees2

Recognizing the toll of stress, many companies are trying to reduce work-related stress and help employees become more resilient. Depending on a company’s climate, creating a healthier work culture may involve systemic changes and organizational shifts such as involving employees more fully in decision making and creating self-managed work teams. Work-life balance policies and programs can also help employees manage responsibilities at work and home with less stress.3

If your company offers an employee assistance program (EAP), make sure employees are aware that the EAP can help with issues that affect their health and well-being, including stress. Some EAPs, like the Optum program, also help strengthen your leadership team through training programs and management consultation services. These in turn can help create a healthier work culture, too.

For more information:

–Ruth Kenzelmann

About the author:

Ruth Kenzelmann, PhD, vice president, employee assistance program and work/life services, Optum

Dr. Kenzelmann is responsible for operations management and clinical supervision of EAP specialists, licensed clinicians, management consultants, critical incident responders and trainers who serve more than 9 million individuals from about 950 organizations. She has extensive experience in community mental health services and supervision. Dr. Kenzelmann has a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and a doctoral degree in psychology from United States International University in San Diego.

1 CDC NIOSH. Workplace stress; Dec. 3, 2007;
2 Stress in the workplace: Meeting the challenge. Health Advocate, Inc.; 2009.
3 American Psychological Association. Creating a psychologically healthy workplace.

Leave a Reply