Workplace Stress in a Nutshell.

Author:DeCarlo, Donald T.

* Stress is commonly cited as the cause of an increasing number of workers compensation claims. What is stress? The word "stress" should be defined and the types of stress claims described before we focus on this workers compensation claims trend.

Stress means response behavior that is unique and personal, with a single stimulus being perceived by different individuals in different ways. Dr. Hans Selye defines stress as the "non-specific" response of the body to any demand made upon it. Stress can be negative or positive. Stress can come from positive uplifting experiences, such as having a baby or getting a job promotion. Stress can also come from negative life experiences such as death of a loved one or termination of employment. When "stress" becomes "distress" then there is the potential for a work related disability or compensable workers compensation claim.

The types of workers compensation stress claims vary. Claims involving either mental stress or mental disability are often divided into three categories:

* Mental-physical claims involve mental stress which results in a physical disability; for example, a stress-induced heart attack.

* Physical-mental claims involve a physical injury which leads to a mental disability; for example, a conversion neurosis following a traumatic injury.

* Mental-mental claims refer to mental stress which results in a mental disability; for example, a nervous breakdown brought on by job harassment or termination. Characteristically, neither the stress nor the disability can be physically corroborated.

Most workers can identify with an employee experiencing emotional stress from such job pressures as a change in duties or conflict with supervisors. A recent Cigna survey regarding stress from work demonstrated the need for wellness programs; "More than 87% surveyed actually believed to be stressed. Many are unable to manage their stress levels successfully." A survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association showed that approximately 60% of respondents reported experiencing "negative stress" on the job. Frequently cited sources of stress included workload and time pressures, poor relationships with supervisors and co-workers, and contact with the public or customers. Workers' in blue-collar and farming occupations cited the threat of job loss or change due to economic conditions or technological innovations. Mental-mental claims arise in all occupations, and are filed by secretaries to chief...

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