Posted by: healingtheworkplace | February 18, 2008

Is Your Workplace Producing Employee Stress?

I keep hearing about the acute shortage of workers in all sectors of the economy AND the looming crisis that is sure to strike as more and more baby boomers retire. Of course many of these boomers will continue to work or will start their own businesses. 

Those who do seek re-employment will certainly NOT tolerate unhealthy, stress-inducing workplaces. 

Young people are also picking and choosing where they work and most of them have even less tolerance than older workers when it comes to working in stressful, unhealthy workplaces.

I believe that one of the reasons that people are fleeing the workplace or are reluctant to enter in the first place is summed up in two words–workplace stress. 

Workplace stress is a so predominant in North American organizations that a huge multi-million (maybe even billion) dollar industry has sprung up to lend a hand. I’m not sure if it’s having the desired effect but a lot of people are getting rich. But I digress…

We have all experienced workplace stress or know of someone who has.  What is frightening is not only the toll that this stress takes on the lives of workers and their families BUT also the cost of all of this to our society.  And guess who’s paying for this?

As an aside, when I talk about workers in this blog I mean EVERYONE who works in the organization: non-contract and unionized workers, managers and line staff. EVERYONE is affected. 

In the not so distant past workplace stress was thought to be the individual’s concern. If you were stressed at work then you had better deal with it. 

Your employer might send you to the occupational health nurse or to the employee assistance program. If you were really lucky you worked in a place that had a wellness program complete with a gym, wellness coaching and education.

According to Martin Shain, “these health promotion and wellness programs have demonstrated their value in helping manage stress.” He continues, “however, health promotion and wellness programs that focus only on changing employee behaviours or that place full responsibility for stress management solely with employees, are not enough.

There is now a growing body of solid research clearly indicating that some characteristics of how the workplace is organized is also critical…some workplaces are actually producing employee stress just as surely as they are producing widgets.”

Here are some examples of what Mr. Shain is talking about:

  • work overload and time pressure
  • lack of influence over day-to-day work
  • lack of training and/or preparation
  • too little or too much responsibility
  • ambiguity in job responsibility
  • discrimination
  • harassment
  • poor communication
  • poor leadership/management

In the past fifteen years the thinking about the causes of stress in the workplace have slowly started to change. This change in thinking is being spearheaded by visionary people like Martin Shain in Ontario and in British Columbia, Virginia Langdon  , Executive Director of the Workplace Council, and Marcy Cohen, Research/Policy Planner with the Hospital Employees Union (HEU). 

We now know that stress is not solely the individual’s problem and if the organization focuses only on  individual wellness without creating a healthy workplace then things will not change. In fact things will only get worse.

What can be done about this? There are lots of different approaches to creating healthy workplaces.  The National Quality Institute and Health Canada have come up with The Healthy Workplace Criteria which is designed to help organizations work with employees to create healthy workplaces.

What’s happening at your workplace?  



  1. I agree totally with your comments about workplace stress but Eileen McDargh just wrote about the topic on her blog and discussed a recent workforce survey that says workplace stress has been reduced!

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