]Ne all know that too much stress hurts our health, our relationships, and our productivity at work. The good news: New research reveals that controlling stress is easier than you thought.
Pull the Plug
on Stress by Bruce Cryer, Rollin McCraty, and Doc Chiidre
HESE DAYS, stress is even more rampant than it was in 1983, when
Time magazine declared it to be
"the epidemic of the eighties." Stress is growing: According to a survey by
CareerBuiider, an on-line recruitment site, the overall percentage of worker stress increased by 10% between August
2001 and May 2002. And stress hurts the bottom line: In 1999, a study of
46,000 workers published by the Health
Enhancement Research Organization, or HERO, revealed that health care costs are 147% higher for those individuals who are stressed or depressed, independent of other health issues.' The study, which included employees from
Chevron, Hoffman-La Roche, Health
Trust, Marriott, and the states of Michigan and Tennessee, also found that health care costs generated by stress and depression exceeded those stemming from diabetes and heart disease both stress-related illnesses.
But what exactly is stress? Generally speaking, "stress" refers to two simultaneous events: an external stimulus called a stressor, and the emotional and physical responses to that stimulus
(fear, anxiety, surging heart rate and blood pressure, fast breathing, muscle tension, and so on). Good stressors (a ski run, a poetry contest) inspire you to achieve. In common parlance, though, stress usually refers to our internal reaction to negative, threatening, or worrisome situations-a looming performance report, a dismissive colleague, rush-hour traffic, and so on. Accumulated over time, negative stress can depress you, burn you out, make you sick, or even kill you.
This is because, as our research shows, negative stress is both an emotional and a physiological habit
Of course, many companies understand the negative impact of cumulative stress and do their best to help emHARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
ployees counteract it. Some offer on-site yoga classes and massage; others provide stress management seminars; still others require workers to take a vacation every year.
The problem is that the overall company culture, exacerbated by the stress in people's private lives, works against such approaches. Stressed-out employees are unwilling to take precious time away from work, even for an hiour, to partake of amenities that they - and their bosses-generally regard as optional. Moreover, those who use the employee wellness programs are the ones already most willing to confront their stress head-on. Those in the greatest need often don't show up.
Since 1991. we have studied the mindbody-emotion relationship - specifically, the physiological impact of stress on performance, both at the individual and organizational levels. (Thoughts and
emotions have different types of physiological responses, so we distinguish between thoughts, which are generated by the mind, and emotions, which are produced throughout the body.)
Our goal, in large part, has been to decode the underlying mechanics of stress.
We've sought to understand not only how stress works on a person's mind, heart, and other body systems but also to discover the precise emotional, mental, and physiological levers that can counteract it. Having worked with more than 50,000 workers and managers in more than 100 organizations, including
Boeing, BP, Cisco, Unilever, Bank of
Montreal, and Shell, we've found that learning to manage stress is easier than
most people think. And stress reversal can do a lot of good for your organization.
Our research has spawned
"inner quality management," a system of tools, techniques, and technology that organizations can use to reduce employee stress and boost overall health and performance. In this