Stress in the Workplace: Stats and Quotes

Note: This page contains interesting stats and quotes from various publications. Even though they aren’t from the last few years, they are still relevant. You will find them useful in augmenting some of the easy-to-find stats you can get from an Internet search. Because my work in the last fifteen years has been focused more on helping employers bring out the best in employees and finding solutions to mitigate the negative effects of stress-rather than making a business case for why you should–I have not updated this for a long time. However, this page is linked to from outside sources, so it lives on…


Table of Contents

  1. The Cost
  2. The Pervasiveness of Stress
  3. The Effects
  4. Addressing Stress in The Workplace: ROI


The Cost


Health Care Related Costs


The cost of corporate health benefits, as a percentage of after-tax profits, has increased from 26% in 1989 to 45% in 1990.

Health Care Benefits Survey 1991 – Indemnity Plans – Cost, Design, and Funding. Princeton, NJ: A. Foster Higgins & Co., Inc; 1992: 2-3.

Research shows that 60% to 90% of doctor visits are stress related.

 Perkins, A. (1994). Saving money by reducing stress. Harvard Business Review. 72(6):12.

Northwest National Life reported in 1993 that one million absences each day in the workplace are stress-related.

 Farrell, F. (1994) The demoralized zone: Healing the downsizing survivors. Executive Directions. September/October: 37-43

California Workers’ Compensation Institute (1983) reported that gradual mental stress claims more than doubled from 1980 to 1982. The National Council on Compensation Insurance said that gradual mental stress accounted for 11% of all claims for occupational disease. From 1981 to 1982, costs of workers’ compensation for gradual mental stress reached, and then surpassed, the average cost of claims for other occupational disease.

Sauter, S.L.; Murphy, L.R.; and Hurrell, Jr., J.J. (1990) Prevention of work-related psychological disorders. American Psychologist. 45(10):1146-1153

“A landmark 20-year study conducted by the University of London concluded that unmanaged reactions to stress were a more dangerous risk factor for cancer and heart disease than either cigarette smoking or high cholesterol foods.”

Cryer, B. (1996). Neutralizing Workplace Stress: The Physiology of Human Performance and Organizational Effectiveness. presented at: Psychological Disabilities in the Workplace, The Centre for Professional Learning, Toronto, CA. June 12, 1996.

Experts estimate that it costs American employers $700 million per year to replace the 200,00 men aged 45 to 65 who die or are incapacitated by coronary artery disease.

 Cooper, C.; Cooper, R.; and Baker, L. (1988). Living with Stress. Harmondsworth, NY: Penguin Health.

A study of 3,020 aircraft employees showed that employees who “hardly ever” enjoyed their job were 2.5 times more likely to report a back injury than those who reported “almost always” enjoying their job.

 Bigos, S.J.; Battie, M.C.; Spengler, D.M.; Fisher, L.D.; Fordyce, W.E.; Hansonn, T.H.; Nachemson, A.L.; and Wortley, M.D.. A prospective study of work perceptions and psychosocial factors affecting the report of back injury, Spine, 1, 1?7, 1991.

A recent study at a manufacturing plant, showed that employees who reported high levels of role conflict, physical environment stress, and overall work stress had significantly higher (p<.01, p<.05, and p<.05 respectively) physician-excused absences.

Heaney, C.; Clemans, J. (1996).Occupational stress, physician-excused absences, and absences not excused by a physician. American Journal of Health Promotion. Vol. 10(2): 117-124.

Forty percent of job turnover is due to stress.

Bureau of National Affairs

Workers with high stress were over two times more likely to be absent 5+ days a year.

 Jacobson et al (1996) American Journal of Health Promotion, 11(1).

Unscheduled absences by US employees rose by 9% in 1993, costing work organizations as much as $750 per employee, according to a national survey.

Moskal, B.S. (1994) Unscheduled absences by U.S. Employees: “Missing Persons,” Industry Week, August 15: 22.


Counterproductive Behavior


In 1985, counterproductive behavior by workers cost American business $50 billion annually. This cost is increasing by approximately 15% annually.

Kuhn, R.(1988).Psychological tests reduce counterproductive acts by employees. Assets Protection. 9:9-12.


In 1986 alone, plaintiffs received favorable verdicts in 78% of the wrongful discharge cases that went to jury in California, the total awards averaged $424,527.

Fulmer, W. E. and Casey, A.W. (1990). Employment at will: Options for managers. Academy of Management Executive. May, 1990: 102.

“Workplace trauma has its roots in the culture of the organization. Recent court decisions have supported this notion by affirming that the creation of an environment that may be perceived as offensive, threatening or hostile is sufficient basis for liability on the part of the employer, regardless of the direct experience of an individual member.”

Tyler, T. R. (1989) Do employees really care about due process? Proceedings of the 1989 Employee Responsibilities and Rights, American Bar. Northwestern University.


The primary issue related to litigation in wrongful termination is the perception of injustice.

Tyler, T. R. (1989) Do employees really care about due process? Proceedings of the 1989 Employee Responsibilities and Rights, American Bar. Northwestern University.


Decreased Productivity

A Gallup Poll of 201 U.S. corporations revealed that 60% of all managers felt that stress related illness was pervasive among their workers and decreased productivity at an estimated cost of 16 days of sick leave and $8,000 per person per year.

The Gallup Organization

Every time a grievance is brought up, lost productivity by the employee and those around him/her is about 80 work hours.

Wilson, B. (1991) U.S. businesses suffer from workplace trauma. Personnel Journal. July, 1991: 47-50.

$5 to $6 billion decreased productivity annually occurs due to real or perceived abuse of employees.

Bureau of National Affairs. (1990) Violence and Stress: The Work/Family Connection. The BNA Special Report on Work and Family, Special Report #32. August 1990: 2.

Based on empirical estimates of workplace impairment with respect to all mental illness, the authors state “we assume that depressed individuals contribute 20% less during an episode than under

Greeber, P. et al (1993) The economic burden of depression in 1990. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 54(11), 405?418.

The average depressed worker costs their employer $3,000 per year.

Greeber, P. et al (1993) The economic burden of depression in 1990. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 54(11), 405-418.


Insurance data indicates insurance claims for stress related industrial accidents cost nearly twice as much as non stress related industrial accidents.

 Perkins, A. (1994). Savings money by reducing stress. Harvard Business Review. 72(6):12.

Employees with low satisfaction are more likely to have multiple injuries than those with high satisfaction (54% to 43%). Employees with a higher number of stressful life events were more likely to have had more than one injury than those with low (53% to 41%).

 Webb, G. et al. (1994). The relationships between high-risk and problem drinking and the occurrence of work injuries and related absences. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 55 (4), 441-442.

The Pervasiveness of Stress

Constandino ‘Dean’ Biris, a consultant on corporate change, estimates that “at least 45% of American managers suffer too much stress.” As a result, “they are becoming abusive, intolerant, and dictatorial.” pg. 74

Smith, E.T., Brott, J., Cuneo, A., and Davis, J.E. (1988) Stress: The test Americans are failing. Business Week. April 18: 74-76

The 1985 National Health Interview Survey revealed that an estimated 11 million workers report health?endangering levels of mental stress at work. Only one other hazardous work condition ? loud noise, was found to be more prevalent in the workplace.

Shilling, S. and Brackbill, R.M. (1987) Occupational health and safety risks and potential health consequences perceived by U.S. workers. Public Health Reports. 102:36-46.


The Effects


General Effects and Mitigating Factors


A survey by St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company of 28,000 workers representing 215 diverse organizations produced the following results:

Teamwork and supervision problems were the most consistently and strongly related to burnout, health problems, and performance problems. Teamwork was at the top of the list for all of these.

Results of the study showed:

• Stress at work is strongly correlated to employee burnout, and health and performance problems.

• Among personal life problems, those caused by one’s job are the most potent.

• Balance enhances employee morale, health, and performance.

• Male and female perceptions of the workplace are nearly identical.

 Kohler, S. and Kamp, J. (1992). American Workers Under Pressure Technical Report. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company. St. Paul, MN


The Stress/Control Connection

Men with demanding jobs that give them little control have three times the risk of hypertension as co?workers. Men with demanding jobs with control show no ill effects.

 Yandrick, Rudy and Freeman, Michalel (General Editor), 1996. Behavioral Risk Management: How to Avoid Preventable Losses from Mental Health Problems in the Workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey?Bass Publishers.

American women with heavy work loads and little job control are three times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than women with the same work load, but who had more control.

 Rosen, The Healthy Company

 Cognitive Impairment

Research with humans experiencing uncontrollable stress shows that such stress results in a deterioration in their cognitive processes, resulting in diminished problem-solving abilities.

 Seligman, M. (1972). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: Freeman and Company.

Experiments with humans show that uncontrollable stress leads to a shift in thought process to a superficial, simplistic, unoriginal style of thinking.

Pennebaker, J. (1990). Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding In Others. NY: Morrow.

Our ability to learn is directly affected by our emotional state. When we are feeling stressed and insecure, our ability to learn is seriously compromised.

Rose, C. (1985). Accelerated Learning. NY: Dell Books.

Aggressive, Territorial Behavior

As stress levels increase, people revert to more primitive hard wired@ survival patterns. Once consequence of this is that when stressed, they are more likely to respond in an aggressive, territorial, paranoid manner.

Bernstein, A. and Rozen, S. (1989). Dinosaur Brain. NY: Ballentine Books.

Increased Rigidity and Inflexibility in the Face of Change

Downshifting is the process in which, as stress level increases, our intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal functioning becomes more primitive and therefore, less effective.

 Hart, Leslie.(1983). Human Brain, Human Learning. New York: Longman.

When we downshift, we revert to the tried and true… Our responses become more automatic and limited. We are less able to access all that we know or see what is really there. Our ability to consider subtle environmental and internal cues is reduced. We also seem less able to engage in complex intellectual tasks, those requiring creativity and the ability to engage in open-ended thinking and questioning. (pg. 72)

Caine, R. and Caine, G. (1994). Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. NY: Addison Wesley.

 Difficulty Responding Effectively to Challenges

Studies on humans suggest that chronically stressed individuals show greater reactivity to, and prolonged recovery from, challenging tasks. pg. 216

Brosschot, J.F.; Benschop, R.J.; Godaert, G.L.; Olff, M.; De Smet, M.; Heijnen, C.J.; and Ballieux, R.E. Influence of life stress on immunological reactivity to mild psychological stress. Psychosomatic Medicine, 56, 216-224, 1994

After AT&T’s downsizing of 32,000 employees over several years. the company’s top psychiatrist Dr. Joel Moses, noted that workers showed signs of “disengagement”, a subtle lack of focus and commitment. Richard J. Ritchie – manager of corporate psychological research noted the “flashback phenomenon,” where survivors would respond to announcements of layoffs in other departments as if their own jobs were in danger.

Addressing Stress in The Workplace: ROI


At a Minnesota electronics manufacturer, management had employees complete the Human Factors Inventory (a stress/general well-being inventory) during a major downsizing. The survey showed high levels of worker stress. The company implemented a variety of programs to address this problem. Result – workers’s comp claims decreased by 30%.

Kohler, S. and Kamp, J. (1992). American Workers Under Pressure Technical Report. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company. St. Paul, MN.

 A Minnesota plastics manufacturer surveyed employees using St. Paul’s Human Factors Inventory. Results portrayed a workforce that was bored, frustrated over the lack of communication and involvement in decision-making. They also showed a lack of commitment to company quality, safety and productivity.

They implemented a task force in each department to address these issues, improved benefits, created a safety incentive program, and a newsletter.

Result: a 56% drop in workers’ compensation claims

 Kohler, S. and Kamp, J. (1992). American Workers Under Pressure Technical Report. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company. St. Paul, MN.

The management of Waste Management, Inc. from Oakbrook, Illinois; believed that worker stress was contributing to absenteeism and medical claims. They instituted a stress management program, which has resulted in a cost savings of $3,750 to $15,000 savings per participant, (amount of savings depended on their annual income).

 Naas, R. (1992) Health promotion programs yield long-term savings. Business and Health. 10(13):41-47


Data from the Human Factors Inventory administered to approximately 1000 employees of a Midwestern hospital resulted in the following organizational changes:

• A comprehensive in-house EAP

• The addition of a stress management program to the hospitals back program

• An intensive problem-focused consultation to leaders of problem departments.

This translated into the following Workers Compensation claim savings:

• Workers Compensation claims dropped from 3.1 claims per month to 0.6 per month.

• Average monthly cost of claims dropped from $7,329 to $324.

• Average total expected claims cost dropped from $24,199 to $2,577.

The authors conclude:

….the results suggest that while a one-time stress management program will have little, if any, effect on accident and injury occurences, a more permant, comprehensive, organization-wide program can have more substantial effects.

 Steffy, B.; Jones, J.; Murphy, L.; and Kunz, L. (1986). A demonstration of the impact of stress abatement programs on reducing employee’s accidents and their costs. American Journal of Health Promotion. Fall, 25- 32.

Biofeedback and muscle relaxation training was offered to workers at a public works department in an effort to reduce work-related injuries. Participants had significantly fewer (p<.05) post-training injuries than non-participants.

 Steffy, B.; Jones, J.; Murphy, L.; and Kunz, L. (1986). A demonstration of the impact of stress abatement programs on reducing employee=s accidents and their costs. American Journal of Health Promotion. Fall, 25- 32.