An employee may have had the best of ergonomic interventions and still be experiencing signs of carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive strain injuries. Work methods and general health issues can also impact vulnerability to developing an injury. Often in the hand therapy clinic when I am treating these injuries, my client will report that their painful condition began as stress from the workload, the work environment, the work project, or relationships with co-workers increased.
In an April 2009 Newsletter on Workplace Stress, Canada’s National Occupational Health & Safety Resource outlines the (CCOHS) physical and mental cost of stress on the health of employees. Although stress can have some positive effects, the negative effects of anxiety, fatigue and dissatisfaction can cause physical, psychosocial and behavioral symptoms that impact a company’s bottom line. The article outlines organizational changes that can be made to help employees achieve an improved work-life balance and promote general health. Suggestions will help the employee gain satisfaction with the job being completed, with the employee’s role in the organization and their career development, with interpersonal relationships at work, and with the organizational structure of the work.
4 Phases of Stress and the level of intervention needed are outlined:
- Phase 1 - Warning Signs: Recommendations include increasing time for self, taking a vacation, talking with supportive friends and family
- Phase 2 - Mild Symptoms: life-style changes are needed to relieve stress; short term counseling may be necessary
- Phase 3 - Entrenched Cumulative Stress: medical and psychological intervention may be necessary
- Phase 4 - Severe Debilitating Cumulative Stress – requires significant intervention from professionals
Some recommendations employers can implement that will help improve workplace symptoms include:
- Treat all employees in a fair and respectful manner
- Learn signs and symptoms of stress; if observed, treat the situation seriously and do not ignore it
- Involve employees in decision making processes and allow for their input
- Make sure that staff has the training, skills and resources they need
- Balance the workload
- Do not tolerate bullying or harassment
Next week’s conclusion to this series will discuss methods in which individuals can reduce stress and promote a healthy life-work balance to improve general emotional and physical health.
Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing at the Hand Therapy & Occupational Fitness Center in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.