PUBLISHED: 1:38 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Stress means more sick workers

Courtesy photo
Author Douglas Adams once wrote, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Apparently, a lot of people are not taking Mr. Adams' comments to heart.

Instead, trends show people are likely to experience a rise in blood pressure, stomach acids and blood sugar when deadlines whoosh by them, rather than to weather the storm with a simple smile.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, fear of job redundancy, layoffs, uncertain economy and decreasing health care coverage are causing workers an increased amount of stress, and that's before they even get to their jobs.

When they get there, workers are more likely to work longer hours, deal with more stress, and make more sacrifices for their jobs than just a decade ago.

The result is what's being called a "toxic workplace," or a work environment that can actually make workers sick.

Seanne Emerton, a counselor with Family Resources of Greater Nebraska in Grand Island, said she has seen an increasing number of people come in to deal with stress on the job.

These workers often have difficulty focusing, are overly fatigued and are irritable both at work and at home.

"Usually, they come in when they feel so overwhelmed that they can't function," Emerton said. "There are psychosomatic complaints and emotional complaints."

There are two bits of good news for the overstressed worker, Emerton said.

The first is that you're not alone, and the second is there's help.

Emerton is big on an idea called Emotional Intelligence Testing, which tells professionals how a person emotionally reacts to different situations.

The goal of the testing is to help people dealing with high levels of stress increase the quotient they are able to deal with.

"Stress in the workplace is an issue we deal with a lot because there seems to be more of it," she said.

"I'm not sure why that is, but it seems people feel the need to work more. Morale can be an issue, and we try to help people in a variety of ways."

The methods Emerton champions work with both the employees to teach them how to focus on stress relief, and with employers with the hopes of increasing communication, which usually lowers stress.

For those who feel stressed and are looking for a place to start, Emerton said a simple rule of thumb applies when dealing with stress - you move toward what you focus on.

"It's minding the mind and watching where it goes," she said. "We go toward what we focus on.

"If you focus on how stressed you are instead of how you can reduce your stress, you won't do as well."

Lee Elliot, vice president of human resources and fund development for St. Francis Medical Center, has employed many of the ideas put forth with Emotional Intelligence Testing, and said he has seen results. Part of the concept he said has made a difference is the idea of "stress inoculation," or teaching employees how to deal with stress before it presents itself.

What he has found is teaching employees how to react can actually be good for both the employee and the employer, since those who feel they are valued are often unafraid to tackle large work loads.

It's those who get quickly upset when presented with work who are at risk.

"It's not being driven that causes problems," he said.

"It's anger. Those who react to stress with anger have a rise in blood pressure. Those who evaluate the situation can often see a drop."