Recognizing background stressors in the workplace
Date Posted: 08/05/2019
Everyone knows that the work environment can cause stress, and some causes (like the need to meet production demands) may be outside your ability to control as a safety professional. However, you may be able to reduce other sources of environmental stress.
Even within the safety realm, some stressors cannot be avoided. For example, wearing a respirator for extended periods does contribute to stress — but if the job requires wearing a respirator, eliminating the stressor probably isn't possible.
Other background stressors, such as constant noise, might be reduced. While excessive noise can cause stress, even lower levels of continual background noise may contribute as a background stressor. Employees might not notice background stressors because they tend to be constant. While a sudden noise might make you jump, an ongoing background noise seems like it could be ignored. However, it still affects the body, and those effects stack up over time.
Initial negative effects could include sleep disorders, headaches, irritability, and even digestive problems or increased alcohol use. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, continued strain from routine stress may contribute to more serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression or anxiety.
Employees may not even be aware that the workplace stressors are contributing factors, yet these problems not only impact health and attitude (headaches and irritability certainly affect a worker's attitude) but they also negatively impact productivity.
Identifying and addressing stressors
In addition to background noise, other environmental stressors could include light (too much or not enough), working in hot or cold environments, the presence of allergens, and strenuous physical work or poor ergonomics.
You probably already evaluate the workplace for ergonomic concerns, but consider looking for other stressors such as noise, light, temperature extremes, and even allergens. Addressing these stressors may not be quick, easy, or cheap. Mounting new lights, adjusting HVAC systems to control temperature, installing sound baffles to reduce noise, or adding air filters to reduce allergens all come with costs.
However, if employees identify one of those items as a source of stress, the cost may be worth the effort. Try translating the cost into productivity terms. For example, the cost of an adjustment might equal the cost of ten sick days, or a certain percentage of productivity. If the alteration could save more than it costs, the expense may be worthwhile.