Stress has been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization and is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year according to the American Institute of Stress and $30 billion a year spend in Australia according to Workplace Health Australia.

A year ago, I wrote a blog on Stress and ROI which created a great deal of interest. The more I continue to dig and search the literature, the more experts are saying how important it is to create a mentally healthy, low stress workplace.

There is considerable academic evidence that properly diagnosing the sources of stress in an organisation, followed by undertaking primary interventions to remove or reduce the stressors, provide an organisation with the greatest value for their investment.


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Here is what I have uncovered over the last 12 months.

A Tower-Watson study published in the Work & Stress Journal in November 2013 named stress as the #1 workforce risk factor above diabetes and obesity and lack of exercise.

A study of Microsoft workers who were putting in 16-hour days researchers were surprised to find, that these workers suffered no ill-effects. The researchers concluded that what made the difference for these Microsoft employees was control. Even though they often put in 16-hour days, these workers were not stressed as they still had CONTROL over when they worked and when they didn’t. Most of these individuals in this study had elected to work from home.

One of the largest US health insurance companies in a study between 2001 to 2005 of their own employees found there was an ROI of $1.65 for every dollar spent on stress management in the workplace.

Another large US major health insurer estimated their ROI for stress management was $3.30 for every dollar spent.

What kind of return on investment can managers expect for these efforts?

At Aetna Insurance, more than 12,000 employees participating in mindfulness programs offered by the company showed an average of 62 minutes per week of enhanced productivity, saving the company $3,000 per employee annually. More generally, an iOpener Institute study found that in mid-sized companies, happy workplaces had a 46% reduction in turnover, 19% reduction in the cost of sick leave, and 12% increase in performance and productivity. The happiest employees spent 46% more of their time focused on work tasks and felt 65% more energized than their colleagues. Finally, at a macro level, research by HR consultancy Towers Watson found that companies in which employees experienced sustainable engagement, defined as emotional engagement as well as a sense of being enabled and energized by work, had twice the earnings and nearly three times the gross profit of companies that had average to low levels of engagement.

What became evident during my digging in the literature was that five elements kept showing up as the leading causes of stress at work.

  1. Low employee control. When pacing of work, how you do your job and when to take breaks are dictated by someone else.
  2. Role ambiguity. When you’re unclear what your duties are, how raises are given out and what they are given out for? You don’t know what’s important to do and what’s not.
  3. Low social support from supervisor. How helpful and caring is your supervisor? This can make a big difference in how much stress you experience at work.
  4. Negative social interactions. Bullying by co-workers and/or an abusive supervisor can be super stressful. (Notice that an abusive supervisor is DIFFERENT from a supervisor who just isn’t caring. This points out the tremendous impact that the supervisor has on every single worker he supervises. And this makes a difficult boss doubly toxic.)
  5. Low job security Constant threat of layoffs and downsizing can be debilitating.

Dr Leslie Hammer of Portland State University discussed the connection between work-life conflict and stress. She made the excellent point that stress doesn’t always DIRECTLY cause health problems. It causes the unhealthy lifestyle choices that lead to health problems.

The Stress Management Institute® conducts training for those individuals who wish to become a qualified Stress Management Practitioner or Stress Management Facilitator and embark on either a full time or part time exciting career caring for and supporting people who are struggling to cope with stress. If you are looking for a career change, or you wish to add a Stress Management and Emotional Resilience specialty to your current career, please call +61 1 300 663 979 or email

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