Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace

For Employers - How Employers can Reduce Stress

Did You Know...?

  • Stressful working conditions can lead to high blood pressure and other risk factors for illness even if employees do not report feeling stressed?
  • Returning to a high-stress job following a heart attack is twice as risky for a repeat event compared with returning to a lower-stress job?

Stressful working conditions matter to employees' health.  This is true even if employees do not admit to feeling stressed.  Working harder, faster, and longer for sustained periods of time are examples of workplace stressors that can affect employees' physical and mental health, can impede healthy self-care behavior such as eating well and keeping active.  Over time, stressful working conditions often lead to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Global economic conditions that put pressure on productivity and make jobs less secure make it difficult for workers to escape exposure to job stressors.

What You Can Do

Take steps to control stress at your workplace by augmenting your current health and wellness programs with organizational policies, job design, and social supports that can help employees feel more satisfied and in control.

  • Check this out for examples of how various companies have reduced workplace stressors through organizational change.
  • Other case studies from the APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program website and Sloan Work and Family Research Network can also help you envision what you can do.
Step 1- Build your knowledge
Find out about the major stressors in your workplace by surveying your employees.
  • Validated Survey Instruments

Step 2- Build your team
Making meaningful changes to control stress in the workplace will require the involvement of many stakeholders, particularly if you are part of a large organization. Directors of health and safety, human resources/benefits, employee assistance, health promotion, etc. all have a role to play.  If you are a small company, your team may include your health insurance representative, chamber of commerce, or other community service providers who can provide data or resources for your company.

Step 3- Build the case
Making changes and introducing new workforce programs almost always requires investment of time and resources.  You will likely need to justify these costs in terms of costs and benefits, as well as how the program aligns with important strategic goals of your organization.
You can use the financial costs of workplace stress provided on this website, along with your company's health data, to help build the case for your programs.  These data will also help you with making informed decisions about which policies, programs, and workers you will focus on.

Step 4- Build your program
Using what you know about the needs of your workforce, work with your team to build a comprehensive approach to stress control that combines improvements in working conditions along with stress management approaches for individual workers.  Intervention research shows clear benefits for a "systems" approach that emphasizes primary prevention (avoiding exposures) over secondary or tertiary prevention (treating symptoms and illness).

Primary Prevention

Primary prevention methods for controlling stress aim to prevent illness among individuals by reducing stress exposure. This is the best way to reduce stress-related illnesses but is often overlooked. Be sure to give primary prevention top priority in your planning.
Examples of primary prevention include:

Improving Job Design

Improving Communication
  • Share information with employees to reduce uncertainty about their jobs.
  • Clearly define employees' roles and responsibilities.
  • Make communication friendly and efficient, not mean-spirited or petty. 
Consulting your Employees
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job. 
Offering Rewards and Incentives
  • Praise good work performance verbally and institutionally.
  • Provide opportunities for career development.
  • Promote an "entrepreneurial" work climate that gives employees more control over their work.
Cultivating a Friendly Social Climate
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination.
  • Make management actions consistent with organizational values.

Secondary Prevention

Secondary prevention methods for stress control aim to modify an individual's response to stressors. They often include providing training and education to employees on stress management to assist employees in coping with residual stress in the environment and reducing its harmful effects. 
Examples of secondary prevention include:
  • Training on meditation, muscle relaxation, tai chi and other relaxation methods
  • Training on assertiveness, conflict resolution, etc.
  • Providing physical space for meditation and other relaxation
  • Providing a walking route and/or exercise space for use during work hours
  • Offering periodic massage therapy at the workplace

Tertiary Prevention

Tertiary prevention methods are reactive and aim to minimize the effects of stress-related problems once they have already occurred. Tertiary Interventions do not prevent job stress problems from occurring. These tactics help employees recover from serious ill health resulting from stress.
Examples of tertiary prevention include: