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Stress and Your World: The Workplace


April 2, 2019 | Published by

Stress permeates every area of your life, whether you’re aware or not. The workplace is one such area where stress may be a bigger factor than you realize. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that stress is the leading workplace health problem, coming out ahead of physical inactivity and obesity. Stress affects people across all job types despite position or income, and is a leading cause of absenteeism, turnover rates, and loss of productivity.

Companies are more aware than ever of how their business is being affected by stress. Employee benefits cost General Motors more annually than it spends on steel, and Starbucks more than it spends on beans. A company’s practices significantly affect the physical and mental health of its employees, and some companies are trying to make a difference.

A paper published in 2015 by Management Science Journal stated that stress-related deaths topped over 120,000 annually, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the US. That means stress killed more people than kidney disease and diabetes. (1) Additionally, stress-related issues cost companies more than $190 billion per year, a figure that’s hard to ignore.

In fact, 2017-18 U.K. government figures showed that half of the country’s working days were lost due to stress, depression, or anxiety. The figures also showed that when employees were at work during times of stress, they were not working as hard. A 2016 survey conducted by the Virgin Group of around 2,000 employees confirmed that participants were unproductive due to stress on average 57.5 days a year, or nearly a quarter of the time.

While only a small number of workers on a regular schedule experience work-related conflict with their family, as much as 26% of workers with irregular schedules admitted experiencing family-related conflict. The Gap experienced a 5% increase in productivity and 7% increase in sales when it made the effort to stabilize work hours after retail staff objected frequent last-minute schedule changes. (1) Indeed, it is hard to plan your personal life and sleep schedule when your work schedule is constantly changing.

An erratic schedule isn’t the only thing that elevates stress at work. A study showed that employees working more than 44 hours per week were more than twice as likely to experience stress. (4) Companies such as the Zillow Group are trying to change the way stress affects their workers by allowing employees to limit their own work hours. The company also offers 8 weeks of fully-paid leave for all new parents, and an additional 8 weeks for new mothers. It seems other companies are taking notes. Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft all extended their maternity leave policies shortly thereafter. (2)

The good news is many companies are starting to make changes to help alleviate stress and improve the health of their employees. Some companies are experimenting with hours reduction by decreasing the entire work week. New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian saw an increase of productivity by 20% when they reduced the work week to 32 hours over 4 days. (1) “The reduced hours meant that employees could sustain a more intensive work pattern, and they were more motivated upon returning to work,” author Prof. Helen Delaney documented in her report.

Even traveling to work can be stressful for many. While the average American’s commute time is around 30 minutes, polls show that lengthy work commutes of 90 minutes or more are on the rise. Combined with the fact that many people wake up several hours early, adding an extended drive can easily turn a normal 9-5 day stretch to 12 hours or more.

Multiple studies show that commuters with longer travel times experience psychosomatic disorders at a much higher rate than people with short trips to work. Ailments can include anything from headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive issues, to sleep disturbances, problems concentrating, and fatigue. (5)

If stress is getting you down at work, try going for a walk during your lunch or other breaks. Getting some fresh air and being able to clear your mind is a great way to reset during the work day. Even listening to your favorite music or a podcast on your way to work is a wonderful way to start your day right. Making the best use of your off-time can be beneficial as well. Make time for your family, as well as yourself. Don’t feel bad for devoting time to a hobby. Every little bit can help.

Meditation is a great mindfulness-based technique you can do yourself that’s been proven to not only relieve stress, but also improve your life overall. After a year-long interactive online meditation program, participants reported a 31% decrease in levels of stress, and a 28% increase in vitality (3). The effects also showed that the participants had leaned new permanent coping skills as well as weight loss and improved sleep. Stress doesn’t have to take control of your professional life, and realizing there are measures you can take to regain that control is the first step.

Sometimes the work environment is just too toxic to handle. Leaving a workplace for something new can be quite daunting, but also necessary for your professional and personal self. In the end, your personal well-being is more important, so make sure you are doing what’s right for you. As the saying goes, don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.


  1. Pfeffer, J. The Hidden Costs of Stress-Out Workers. Wall Street Journal.
  2. Lerman, R. Zillow sweetens paid leave for new parents. Seattle Times.
  3. Didier, A et al. A Web-Based Mindfulness Stress Management Program in a Corporate Call Center: A Randomized Clinical Trial to Evaluate the Added Benefit of Onsite Group Support. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
  4. Li, Z et al. Association between Long Working Hours and Job Stress and Depression among Employees from a State Grid Company. NCBI.
  5. Schaefer, A. Commuting Takes Its Toll. Scientific American.

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