Reduce workplace stress – reduce health care cost

Reduce workplace stress – reduce health care cost

By Liz Lockhart

Work related stress is on the increase.  This increased stress is causing more and more workers to require professional care and treatment for mental, emotional and physical complaints according to a new Canadian study.

The study’s findings are published in the journal Public Health.

Concordia University researchers report that this increase equates to a 26% increase in the number of workers visiting health care professionals due to high stress in their jobs.

‘These results show that people in medium-to-high stress jobs visit family doctors and specialists more often than workers with low job stress,’ said Sunday Azagba the first author. 

Nationally representative data from the Canadian National Population Health Survey (NPHS) was reviewed by Concordia economists.

Also included in the survey were statics on the number of healthcare visits, chronic illness, marital status, income level, smoking and drinking habits for adults aged 18 to 65 years.  This accounts for the bulk of the work force.

‘We believe an increasing number of workers are using medical services to cope with job stress,’ said Mesbah Sharaf, co-author. ‘There is medical evidence that  stress can adversely affect an individual’s immune system, thereby increasing the risk of disease.’

‘Numerous studies have linked stress to back pain, colorectal cancer, infectious disease, heart problems, headaches and diabetes.  Job stress may also heighten risky behaviours such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, discourage healthy behaviours such as physical activity, proper diet and increase consumption of fatty and sweet foods,’ he added.

Worldwide health care costs are increasing with experts attributing the escalation of cost to an aging population and prescription drugs.  In Canada, however, costs are controlled per episode or care through a nationalised system and a global budget for health care expenses paid to doctors or other providers. 

Even with these controls in place, health care costs continue to rise in Canada, which, according to the authors, is a reflection of workplace stress.  In the U.S. recent polls found that 70% of American workers believe that their workplace is a significant source of stress, whilst 51% believe that job stress reduces their productivity.

‘It is estimated that health care utilisation induced by stress costs U.S. companies $68 million annually and reduces their profits by 10%,’ Sharaf said.

The total health care expenditures in the U.S. amount to $2.5 trillion.  This equates to $8,047 per person.

‘That represents 17.3% of the 2009 gross domestic product, a 9% increase from 1980,’ said Azagba.

Economists believe that easing workplace stress could help governments to reduce soaring budgets and bolster employee morale. 

‘Improving stressful working conditions and educating workers on stress-coping mechanisms could help to reduce health care costs,’ Azagba said.

‘Managing workplace stress can also foster other economic advantages, such as increased productivity among workers, reduce absenteeism and diminish employee turnover’ Azagba concluded.

Managing workplace stress would also make for happier and healthier workers.  Whilst the economic benefits were studied in the report we should not overlook the benefit to the individual.

Source: Concordia University  

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